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View: BJP is gambling on Sadhvi Pragya Thakur's victory to win the nationalism contest

The BJP gamble is that a win will firmly put a stamp of rejection on the ‘other’ version of nationalism that has dominated Indian politics since Independence.

, ET Bureau|
Apr 21, 2019, 11.37 PM IST
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Pragya-Thakur
Thanks to our vacillating probe agencies, we can be fairly certain that there will never be a satisfactory answer to who was behind the unfortunate blasts in Malegaon.
BJP’s decision to nominate Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur from Bhopal is, to say the least, provocative. While that may have caused some justifiable outrage in certain quarters, the fact is that’s precisely what the move seeks to do: pose the awkward question on who is more ‘acceptable’ now. Such a situation wouldn’t possibly have reached this stage, however, if the investigative agencies, meant to be our prized police institutions, had not botched things up in the first place.

The inability to carry out a clearheaded, impartial probe in a politically volatile case is what has provided the opening for this political play. Which is why it’s all good when the Indian Police Service (IPS) Association stands up for Hemant Karkare, but fails to introspect into the follies of other colleagues who ran these investigations from haloed institutions of ‘investigative excellence’.

But first, the politics. The widening of the probe into the September 2008 Malegaon blasts produced a rare moment of unison within the political Right after many RSS affiliates and workers came under the radar of suspicion. Pragya Singh Thakur, being in custody, became a symbol of that unison – one that led RSS thinking beyond Lal Krishna Advani as prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 elections.

The process eventually culminated with Narendra Modi being the Sangh’s choice. This caused considerable heartburn and in-fighting in BJP. But the then BJP president Rajnath Singh had carried the day, and eventually all fell in line. But it was cases of ‘Hindu terror’ that proved to be the turning point to jolt RSS into thinking about how to defeat UPA.

Statement Of Assertion
The euphoric win of 2014 was, thus, seen, among many other things, as a vindication of the stand taken against a particular line of investigation. But more importantly, the nature and scope of the victory was also taken as a marker of wider acceptance of RSS ideology and its version of cultural nationalism.

The spate of electoral wins that followed, which, at one point, put BJP in power in two-thirds of India, only validated the understanding of this growing acceptability. This is why a key underlying narrative of the 2019 elections is ideological, where the BJP would believe that its version of nationalism is up against the Nehruvian model.

Thakur’s nomination is, thus, meant to be a statement of assertion to those who vilified her as a terrorist – and that in BJP’s books she is actually anationalist, a ‘deshbhakt’. Bhopal, in many ways, is now the one constituency where the election will be a contest of two nationalist narratives.

Prime Minister Modi has, in many ways, set the terms himself by framing it as a battle between those who questioned the Batla House encounter and Hindu seers allegedly framed in the Malegaon blast. The BJP gamble is that a win will firmly put a stamp of rejection on the ‘other’ version of nationalism that has dominated Indian politics since Independence.

At a broader level, all of this appears rather crude. But political fights are like that – fiercely competitive and brutal. They are, however, kept within confines by democratic institutions enshrined within, and empowered by, the Constitution. All political parties are required to abide by the constitutional framework by respecting the neutrality of institutions.

Changing Lines
The problem happens when this neutrality is compromised. If institutions become suspect, then crude power games will overpower them. This is exactly what happened to the investigative agencies. Each election is a regrettable reminder of their slide.

We have seen with cases of corruption, agencies continually changing their line depending on who is in power. Malegaon is, unfortunately, the first terror case in this category where we still don’t know the identity of the perpetrators.

Grasp this. There were two Malegaon blasts, one in 2006 and the other in 2008. The police first apprehended eight Muslims, allegedly linked to the Students' Islamic Movement of India (Simi). One of them was even linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

Then after a few years, the presumption was found to be false. In 2013, National Investigation Agency (NIA) booked Abhinav Bharat members, and suspicion shifted from Simi, and the eight Muslim men were released in the Malegaon-1 case. In ‘Malegaon 2’, the links were said to be more ‘defined’ and the idea of Hindu terror outfits taken as a reality.

But between 2014 and 2016, after the NDA government took over, there was another relook. This time we were told the investigation was flimsy, the evidence on Hindu terror groups didn’t add up, and the statements were coerced. NIA then dropped the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) charges against the main accused, Pragya Singh Thakur. She is granted bail, and we are back to square one.

If investigations change course so dramatically every couple of years, then why should politicians not have a field day? The battle over ideologies between two political entities has now clearly crossed institutional limits. And the sad part is there is no consistent referral point to say which side is wrong – or, at least, more wrong. That, in fact, puts other institutions like the Election Commission in a predicament about how to judge who has crossed the line, who is an accused, and who isn’t.

Either way, the biggest casualty in all of this are the Malegaon victims. Thanks to our vacillating probe agencies, we can be fairly certain that there will never be a satisfactory answer to who was behind the unfortunate blasts in Malegaon.

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PM Modi slams Pragya Thakur, BJP defends her candidature

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