The BJP’s decision to field Malegaon blast accused SadhvI Pragya Thakur from Bhopal has thrown up a moot question—should a terror accused be allowed to fight elections?
Pragya was arrested in connection with the 2008 Malegaon bomb blasts that killed six people and left more than 100 injured. She was in jail for almost 10 years, and was discharged under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA), but is still facing trial under other criminal provisions including the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. She is now out on bail on the ground that she is “suffering from breast cancer” and is “unable to walk without support”.
Her claim that she cannot walk without support has itself invited widespread criticism from victims’ lawyers who term it a mockery of justice since she is out most part of the day campaigning in scorching heat. And she has been making provocative statements ever since. First she has abused decorated police officer Hemant Karkare, who had traced her links to the radical Hindutva groups who carried out the Malegaon attacks, then she has said he is proud to accept that she was involved in the Masjid demolition in 1992.
“I have demolished Babri structure. He is my Ram ji and no one can stop me from making a grand Ram temple. The nation is Ram, Ram is a nation. We all will soon prepare a vision for it,” she has said.
It, thus, doesn’t take much of a brains to see why the BJP has fielded her.
From Prime Minister Narendra Modi to BJP president Amit Shah, all have come out in defence of her candidature.
In an offensive, PM Modi has asked why no such questions are being asked when Congress president Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi are contesting from Amethi and Rae Bareli constituencies, respectively, despite being on “bail”.
Modi has attacked the Congress for branding some accused as Hindu terrorist and said fielding of Pragya Thakur is to give a reply to all such people. “The (fielding of Pragya Thakur) is a symbol and this symbol will cost the Congress dearly,” he added.
Digvijay Singh, the Congress candidate against Pragya, was the one who coined the word Hindu terror and was outspoken during that time.
But Modi has not taken into account Pragya’s claim while making his comments that she has, according to observers, hoodwinked the court in getting bail.
Amit Shah says the allegations against her are false and the real culprits in the Malegaon blast case have evaded the law. “It is absolutely a right decision. The allegations against her are baseless. Nothing against her and Swami Aseemanad (another terror accused) have been proved,” Shah has said. Other BJP leaders have described Pragya as a victim of a Congress conspiracy to “defame Hindus”.
But Pragya is also the one who was arrested twice, in 2008 and 2011, by the very BJP government of Shivraj Singh Chohan in Madhya Pradesh for her involvement in the murder of RSS man Sunil Joshi.
Patidar leader Hardik Patel, who had created an atmosphere in the 2017 Gujarat Assembly elections that led to a scare for the BJP, is the staunchest critic of the BJP’s decision to field Pragya, as he is the one who is most affected.
The 25-year-old had started preparations to contest from Jamnagar on the Congress ticket, but the Supreme Court had declined his plea seeking urgent hearing on his conviction in a 2015 riot case. The court has said: “When conviction is there you have to suffer conviction. There is no urgency in the matter.” Hardik is a very unhappy man. “I am not happy. it is wrong that she (Sadhvi Pragya) is contesting elections and I am barred from contesting. This should not have happened,” he says.
In Pragya’s case, a special court has said that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) cannot state that there is no prime facie evidence against Pragya at this juncture, but still did not bar her from contesting the elections.
“The present court has no legal power to pass an order restraining the contesting party…. The matter is within the domain of the Election Commission and the chief election officer. “Even a criminal who is convicted and whose conviction is stayed can contest. This is the legal position,” the special court has said while putting the ball in the Election Commission’s court. Now it is up to the EC to debar or allow Pragya to contest.
The poll body has a task that will decide its impartiality.
Yashwardhan Joshi is a Journalist of long standing and commentator on issues of Administration and Social Issues.