Pragya Thakur is anti-national. So is the BJP’s decision to field her

This humiliation of a gallant Ashok Chakra hero by the BJP’s Bhopal Lok Sabha seat candidate is an insult not just to Hemant Karkare’s individual sacrifice; it is a smear on the uniform.
BJP candidate Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur gestures while addressing a party workers' meeting for Lok Sabha polls, Bhopal, April 18, 2019(PTI)
BJP candidate Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur gestures while addressing a party workers' meeting for Lok Sabha polls, Bhopal, April 18, 2019(PTI)
Updated on Apr 19, 2019 07:03 PM IST
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With the candidature of Pragya Thakur, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has ensured a tectonic headline shift. And perhaps this was their plan: Field a terror accused out on bail, seize the news space and convert even the apoplectic criticism of the decision into an opportunity. After all, no one is talking about the new unemployment report that shows how five million Indians lost their jobs in the past two years, beginning with the demonetisation debacle. Or for that matter any other governance-related issues. Instead, we are all consumed and enraged by the BJP’s choice of the Bhopal candidate and the brazen defiance and disregard for all constitutional norms.

Yet, in a week from now, get ready for the mainstreaming of Thakur, whose campaign will soon be reported on by the national media, as if she were a regular candidate and not a woman charged in a bomb blast that killed six people, including a five-year-old girl, who was returning home to have Ramzan dinner with her grandmother. There will be breathless reportage of the mother of all contests as the BJP nominee goes up against the Congressman who is said to have coined the phrase saffron terror. Her rallies, press conferences and speeches will get massive play as the media will invariably normalise her.

Now imagine, if you will, if the victims of the Malegaon blast were primarily Hindu. Would the BJP still have fielded Thakur? And what if she had been a Muslim? Would they have spared another party for endorsing a terror accused? The BJP routinely hands out certificates of nationalism and tags anyone who disagrees with the dominant narrative as a traitor; today, it is openly advocating for an accused in a terrorism case. If this is not anti-national, what is?

Where are the all the hyperventilating TV anchors who claim all dissenters are urban Naxals and anyone with an alternative perspective is the so-called tukde tukde gang? Today, isn’t it their nationalism that has collapsed into smithereens or tukde? Their prime time arsenal is otherwise full of weapons to take aim at “terror apologists”. So why are they silent against an actual terror accused? There are no hash tag wars on these channels against Thakur or the right wing for defending her so staunchly.

Not even after she has launched a disgusting broadside at Hemant Karkare, the hero of the 26/11, who died fighting Pakistani terrorists in Mumbai. He also happened to be the officer who led the investigations into the Malegaon blasts and against Thakur. Now, already emboldened by her potential electoral respectability, Thakur has declared that Karkare died because of his karma. And that he was cursed to die this way.

This humiliation of a gallant Ashok Chakra hero is an insult not just to Karkare’s individual sacrifice; it is a smear on the uniform. In this campaign, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, the BJP has repeatedly called the opposition treacherous for questioning the security forces after the Balakot strike. BJP spokespersons are hastily distancing themselves from the comments on Karkare. BJP’s spokesperson has said it believes Karkare is a martyr and these are her own beliefs because of the torture she was subject to. But after the sacrifice of an upright and courageous martyr has been mocked in so coarse a manner, this is hardly enough. Will Modi publicly disown the words of Thakur? Or will she be permitted to mock the sacrifice of a respected and upright police officer? And will she be called an urban Naxal or a traitor — or are those words only to be used selectively and politically?

Finally, will all those eminent Indians who supported Modi for PM in 2014 and perhaps again in 2019, appeal to him to withdraw the candidature of Thakur? After all, they have often said their support has been rooted in promises of economic reform, zero corruption and efficient clean governance? But the BJP is not contesting on these issues. Its rhetoric is all about national security and, with the formal advent of Thakur, also about religious polarisation. Or are we going to pretend that Thakur is the fringe? The last time we used that description was when Yogi Adityanath was in Dadri defending the men accused of murder of Mohammed Akhlaq. He went on to become chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. Dare we even wonder to what heights Pragya Thakur may rise?

If nationalism is the new Hindutva, which clearly has been the BJP’s strategy, the party may just have fallen into a trap of its own making. Even arguing that the charges against Thakur were politically motivated will not explain her disgraceful remarks about Karkare. Nor will a win in Bhopal for the BJP have the last word on the decision to give her a ticket. Because only a court of law — and not elections — will determine her innocence or guilt finally.

But the very fact of her candidature dents the BJP’s claim to muscular nationalism. This is beyond the pale. And let’s measure the right wing by its own standards. To borrow from their lexicon, it is most certainly anti national. As is the decision to field her.

Barkha Dutt is an award-winning journalist and author

The views expressed are personal

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Monday, October 18, 2021