Hours after she formally joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, key accused in September 2008 Malegaon blasts, was on Wednesday declared the party’s candidate from Bhopal Lok Sabha constituency against former Madhya Pradesh chief minister and Congress veteran Digvijaya Singh.
Earlier in the day, Pragya had met BJP’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Prabhat Jha in Bhopal and announced that she had joined the saffron party and “will contest and win” the upcoming election.
Pragya has been a bitter critic of Singh and has consistently maintained that she was "framed" by the investigating agencies and charged with stringent sections of the UAPA Act in the Malegaon blasts case at the behest of Singh and former Union home minister P Chidambaram.
A controversial, self-styled god woman, Pragya was also a key accused in the murder of RSS pracharak Sunil Joshi and her name had figured as an alleged conspirator in the Samjhauta Express blasts too. However, last year she had been acquitted of all charges in the Sunil Joshi murder case. At the time, she had maintained that the case was filed against her as part of a conspiracy by Singh. Pragya had spent nearly 8 years, until 2017, lodged in an MP jail owing to her alleged involvement in the blasts cases and is currently out on bail. Pragya has often alleged that she was subjected to “extreme torture” while in police and judicial custody.
Congress insiders feel that the BJP’s decision to field Pragya from Bhopal instead of electorally tested party leaders is meant to serve a larger strategy. The BJP had decided to not field its incumbent MP - Alok Sankar - from the Bhopal seat after the Congress decided to nominate Singh. However, the party had then hit hurdles as several of its leaders, including Chouhan, had expressed their reservations against contesting from the Bhopal seat against Singh.
With Pragya in the electoral fray from Bhopal, Congress leaders fear that Singh will end up attacking the BJP and RSS for supporting “Hindu terrorists”. Any attack on these lines from Singh, who was among the first of Congress leaders to allege that members of the Sangh Parivar and its affiliates were involved in acts of "Hindu terror", will help Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah to raise the bogey of Congress party being anti-Hindu. While this, a senior Congress leader told Outlook, may not necessarily help Pragya defeat Singh in her electoral debut, it could help the BJP in polarizing voters on communal lines elsewhere in the country, particularly in UP where the saffron party is nervous about losing a large chunk of its 2014 tally of 71 seats in wake of the SP-BSP-RLD grand alliance.
Sources in the BJP too say that the party is banking on Pragya for the Bhopal seat as it hopes to benefit from the polarisation of votes her candidature is expected to cause in the constituency that has nearly 40 per cent Muslim voters.
The BJP has never lost the Bhopal seat since 1989, despite the Madhya Pradesh capital having a substantial Muslim population. Last month, MP chief minister Kamal Nath had declared that he wanted Singh to contest as the Congress candidate either from Indore or Bhopal - both seats that the party had last won in 1984.
Singh had "accepted the challenge" and was named as the candidate from Bhopal and is expected to file his nomination from the seat on April 20.