Concerns over perception about the BJP, especially after recent political developments, seems to have forced the ruling party to be defensive about the Pragya Singh Thakur row and direct the Bhopal MP to offer her apology twice on the floor of the Lok Sabha for her remark praising Nathuram Godse.
Asked why the BJP — which initially tried to deny that Thakur was referring to Godse — changed its stand, a senior leader said: “For the perception.” He added that the BJP did not want to give “a fresh weapon” to the Opposition.
Sources said the decision to make Thakur apologise in the House was taken at the top level on Thursday evening.
Party leaders admitted that the BJP — which has always tried to lead in the battle of perception over its political rivals — faced a major setback as its political moves in Maharashtra could not succeed. “When the party is facing severe criticism over the economic slump and Maharashtra developments, it would not have been wise to let this controversy carry on,” said a party leader.
An unrelenting Opposition forced Thakur to apologise for her remark in Lok Sabha for a second time on Friday after rejecting her first apology as “conditional” — in which she targeted Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for calling her a “terrorist”.
The BJP had earlier removed Thakur from the consultative committee on defence and barred her from attending its parliamentary party meetings. However, the Opposition questioned why she was not expelled from the BJP.
The BJP leadership’s decision to oblige the Opposition’s demand, after a noisy meeting of all party leaders at the Speaker’s chamber, surprised even some Opposition members. “But the perception was made, the party had to act,” said a top leader.
“Once we decided we should not let the Opposition take it beyond today, it does not matter whether she apologise once or twice” was the argument given by a senior party leader. Sources in the party said the intensifying protests over Thakur’s remarks, which had been condemned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier, had the potential to dent the PM’s image too. Responding to Thakur’s earlier remark, Modi had said he would not forgive her.
However, the BJP has prepared a counter-defence by making Thakur give a privilege notice against Rahul. “She is called a terrorist when there is no terrorism charges against her. In the same argument, what about Sonia Gandhi, who apparently wept for the terrorists killed in Batla House encounter? Mani Shankar Aiyar, who argued against hanging of Mumbai blast convict Yakub Memon? What about Shashi Tharoor, who said the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru was wrong?” said a source in the party.
With the BJP all set to fight the upcoming elections in Jharkhand, Delhi and Bihar on Modi’s image, the party has to avoid such situations that have the potential to dent it, said a BJP MP.
Party leaders had admitted that the developments in Maharashtra “left a deep dent in its credibility, damaged the image of PM Modi and gave an impression that the BJP is a greedy power-grabbing party”.