With assembly elections in key states only weeks away, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is feeling embarassed after the arrest of a Hindu woman activist on charges of plotting bombings directed at Muslims in two states.
Having campained aggressively against Islamists all these years, BJP leaders are finding it hard to explain Pragya Singh Thakur's known links with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student body attached to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).
The sharply varying reactions of different BJP leaders and those from allied groups appear to expose their predicament vis-a-vis Thakur, also known as Sadhvi Purnachetananandgiri.
"What can I say in the absence of details?" an exasperated BJP spokesman Prakash Javadekar told IANS. "You tell me the details... What have the police said, what is in the chargesheet?"
At least one senior BJP leader admitted to journalists but off the record that Thakur's arrest in Indore in Madhya Pradesh Oct 24 was not something anyone could be proud of.
"It is embarassing for us, particularly because elections are so near," the leader said. The ABVP is ideologically knit with the BJP.
Thakur, 36, a "sadhvi" or woman ascetic, was taken into custody with two male associates, Shyam Bhavarlal Sahu and Shiv Narain Singh, on charges of exploding a powerful bomb in the Maharashtra town of Malegaon and another in Modasa town in Gujarat Sep 29.
Both attacks were directed at Muslim gatherings during Ramadan. Five people were killed in Malegaon and one person died in Modasa, contributing to Hindu-Muslim tensions.
Thakur's father, Chandraprakash Thakur, has declared that he was ashamed of her conduct. "If she is sentenced to life imprisonment, I will neither be happy nor sad," he said in Madhya Pradesh.
Madhya Pradesh is one of six states going to the polls from November. In at least four of the states -- Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi -- the BJP is a major player. It rules three of them.
According to police sources in Maharashtra, the state's Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) has also detained five other Hindus, including four men and a woman.
The men reportedly include three retired majors and an activist of the newly formed Abhinav Bharat, which seeks to "train" Hindus on how to fight terrorists. The woman is a leader of Durga Vahini, the women's wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). She too was based in Indore.
The arrests have brought to light the existence of a pan-India network of militant Hindus who seem ready to emulate the tactics of the very people they oppose so vocally -- Islamist terrorists.
Some BJP and VHP leaders are denying the links of Pragya Thakur and her associates with Hindu bodies -- or trying to rationalise their alleged acts of terror.
"If the Congress is raking up this issue to counter its soft approach towards terrorism, it is going to be a big flop," BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy told IANS.
In Gujarat, state BJP president Purushottam Rupala said: "The Congress and secularists are falsely implicating the Hindu sadhvi."
Some of them are also blaming the media.
Said Rupala: "The whole world knows about the evil machinations of the Congress. It seems only you (media) do not know."
Added VHP national spokesman Surender Jain: "We see the government's hand behind this. No one uses the word 'Islamic terrorism'. This media trial is not right. This is vote bank politics, meant to appease Muslims."
BJP's Rudy also sought to emphasise that Thakur had quit the ABVP a long time ago.
"The fact is that she left ABVP in 1995-96. She has no link with the organisation. The law should take its course against whoever has done any wrong."
Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, president the BJP's Minority Morcha and one of its most prominent Muslim faces, echoed the theme: "I don't know the party's position. She left ABVP long ago."