Digvijaya Singh cannot afford to counter the onslaught with his usual minority appeasement tactics. On the other hand, he is no match for Sadhvi Pragya on the Hindutva issue
Editorials in Several English language dailies have frowned upon the Bharatiya Janata Party’s decision to filed Sadhvi Pragya Thakur as a candidate in the Lok Sabha elections. They point out that since she is a terror accused, now out on bail, the move to get her into the electoral battlefield sets an unhealthy precedent. These commentators gloss over certain facts.
The first is that the National Investigation Agency told the court in 2016 that the Sadhvi was in no way connected with the 2008 Malegaon blasts for which she had been put behind bars during the Congress-led UPA regime. The probe agency also dropped charges against her under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA), which had been slapped on her. The court had no problems with that. And, while a special court refused to similarly dismiss charges against her based on the equally strong Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, it still found sufficient reason to grant her bail. Besides, not a single charge levelled so far against has been proved in a court of law. She is, in the words, as much of a legitimate candidate as those others who face charges of various sorts and are out on bail — this includes Congress president Rahul Gandhi and former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.
In interviews that she has given, she has used the emotional quotient: She narrated her ordeal in jail, telling people of the physical and mental tortures
The argument that Sadhvi Pragya’s case is different because she is an accused in an incident of terror, gets countered by the fact — which has been revealed over the last few months — that she had been framed by the UPA government which was keen to establish a ‘Saffron terror’ narrative. Various senior Congress leaders during that time, and even later, pushed the theory of ‘Hindu terror’. There was clearly a concerted attempt to tar the entire majority community to somehow please a section of the vote-bank, and the Sadhvi was implicated for that purpose.
But the arguments of the critics, especially in the political system, have got nothing to do with the propriety of fielding the accused as a candidate. They are driven more by the apprehension that she could, at least in Bhopal from where she is contesting, upset their applecart through the use of emotion and the message that her (and the BJP’s) rivals have demonstrated an anti-Hindu attitude in a bid to appear the minority community. In interviews that she has given, she has used the emotional quotient: She narrated her ordeal in jail, telling people of the physical and mental tortures she was made to go through — she claimed to have been beaten with belts; suffered spinal injuries; asked to confess to crimes she said she had not committed.
Chief Minister had recently said that the veteran Congress leader was free to contest from any of the ‘tough’ seats, and eventually Bhopal was selected
The political message is straightforward enough, and both she and the BJP are not apologetic about conveying it. A great deal of that has been said with the decision to field her against the Congress’s Digvijaya Singh. The senior leader has a track record of not just indulging in minority appeasement but also casting aspersions on the Right, at times levelling not just baseless but even outrageously ridiculous allegations. He had, for instance, as good as endorsed the silly theory that Indian Right-wingers were behind the Mumbai 26/11 massacre. He has backed hate-monger Zakir Naik, expressed sympathy for terrorists who were killed in the Batla House encounter. Such was his destructive comments that even Congress had become shy of giving him platforms. On one recent occasion, he had commented that every time he opened his mouth, the Congress seemed to lose.
Having realised that he had gone too far, the senior Congress leader has now taken to temple-hopping and has also said that his party would donate land it claimed as its own, on the outskirts of Bhopal, for the construction of a Ram temple. The dispute over the ownership of the land has existed for decades, and it is telling that Digvijaya Singh should, in election season, express on behalf of the party, magnanimity in surrounding claim over the property. But such announcements are not going to wipe the taint that he has accumulated over the years. Matters have become further difficult for him because he is now pitted against a candidate who has from the very beginning, been committed to the Hindu cause and has not adopted it for mere electoral purposes. Given this reality, it would be unreasonable to expect the BJP candidate to not play up the contrasts and highlight the Hindutva angle in the constituency.
All of this poses a dilemma for Digvijaya Singh. He cannot afford to counter the onslaught with his usual minority appeasement tactics. On the other hand, he is no match for Sadhvi Pragya on the Hindutva issue. Besides, he is not contesting what can be called a ‘safe’ seat for the Congress, despite the party’s recent victory in the State Assembly polls. Chief Minister had recently said that the veteran Congress leader was free to contest from any of the ‘tough’ seats, and eventually Bhopal was selected. With Sadhvi Pragya’s entry, the toughest has become tougher for Digvijaya Singh.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.