Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, accused in the Malegaon terror blasts case, who is out on bail and the BJP’s candidate for the Lok Sabha elections in Bhopal, has been issued a show cause notice by the party for her comments hailing Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse as a “patriot”. The BJP’s disciplinary committee has given her 10 days to respond, reiterated party president Amit Shah at a press conference on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi by his side. The PM has, separately, condemned Candidate Pragya’s remarks. The PM and the party president have publicly disapproved of the Sadhvi’s comments, therefore, not long after they staunchly endorsed her controversial candidature. Yet, the BJP’s Sadhvi problem may only just have begun.
Pragya Thakur’s praise of Godse follows close on the heels of her outrageous claim that it was her curse that sent Hemant Karkare to his death — the Maharashtra ATS officer, who led the probe into the Malegaon blasts case, died fighting terrorists during 26/11. At that time, too, the BJP was compelled to distance itself from her remarks. There is no predicting what the BJP may have to rush to explain or apologise for next — possibly on the floor of the House, if she should win the election. But appointing a permanent spokesperson for apologies for Pragya Thakur’s remarks may not be a solution either. The Sadhvi’s comments on Gandhi have only brought to the fore a simmering predicament that will not go away. There is a deep strain of unease within the BJP and the Sangh Parivar with Gandhi, and his repudiation of the majoritarian claim and ethos, even as the Modi-BJP has set out to appropriate political-cultural icons, especially Gandhi, in order to relegate the Congress. But the problem lies not in debating Gandhi, nor in criticising him. In fact, if anything, his deification as Father of the Nation has meant that a deeply political thinker has not got his due share of disagreement. The problem, really, is that today, the refuting of Gandhi comes wrapped in a toxic nationalism that encourages a sense of seige in the Hindu majority, rides on a historical and cultural illiteracy, and intolerance of the Other, and even emboldens violence.
Those like the Sadhvi were once said to be the BJP’s fringe. Today, her elevation in the party is posing a crucial question mark against its moderate space. While a party can carry along internal complexities and contradictions, Pragya Thakur’s candidature from Bhopal, and her comments, highlight a larger question that the show cause notice sent to her does little to answer: Does the BJP participate in, does it own up to, her version of desh bhakti, her brand of nationalism? It is not so much the BJP that is asking the Sadhvi to explain herself today. It is the Sadhvi who has posed a question to the BJP on its nationalism that it cannot evade or escape.