The opposition is up in arms, and rightly so, at the Modi government’s decision to make Pragya Thakur – the BJP MP from Bhopal who has been chargesheeted in a serious terrorist offence – a member of parliament’s consultative committee on defence.
Apart from the irony of putting a person accused of terrorism in a panel that reviews the functioning of the Ministry of Defence and looks at broad questions of national security, Thakur is also on record hailing Independent India’s first terrorist, Nathuram Godse, as a ‘patriot’. Godse assassinated Mahatma Gandhi and Thakur is a fan of the assassin. How can such a person be in parliament, and now, on the consultative committee on defence?
The answer, in two words: Narendra Modi.
We know that it was Narendra Modi who gave Thakur a BJP ticket for the Lok Sabha election and I’m going to stick my neck out and say that Thakur’s membership of the prestigious parliamentary committee would not have been possible without the express authorisation of the prime minister.
I say this because Modi had said, back in May, during the election campaign, that he could never forgive Thakur for her comments on Gandhi and Godse. His rebuke was rather mild, to be frank, but going by Modi’s track record of never criticising his parivar’s folks for the communal, misogynist, casteist and just plain crazy comments they make all the time, it was clear that he was letting it be known that he disapproved of what Thakur had done.
So knowing the way the BJP and the Modi government work, is it possible some minion in the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs would have dared to put a person that Modi had criticised in this fashion on to this committee? Absolutely not. The proposal would have definitely moved up for his clearance.
It is also quite possible that Modi in his new – 2.0 – avatar, with the election campaign and its requirement of propriety behind him, actively suggested Thakur be given this honour. After all, Modi actively floated the proposal during the recent Maharashtra assembly election that V.D. Savarkar be given the Bharat Ratna. This is the same Savarkar who was put on trial for being part of the conspiracy to assassinate Gandhi. Savarkar was acquitted but the fact is that he told Nathuram Godse in Marathi – ‘Yashasvi Houn Ya’ – ‘Be successful and come back’ – as the assassin was setting out from Savarkar Sadan in Bombay for Delhi on his final mission.
Modi’s favourite politician, Sardar Patel, had this to say about the conspiracy in a letter to Nehru on February 27, 1948:
“I have kept myself almost in daily touch with the progress of the investigation regarding Bapu’s assassination case… It was a fanatical wing of the Hindu Mahasabha directly under Savarkar that [hatched] the conspiracy and saw it through.”
Savarkar, Godse and Pragya
Now, anyone with even a basic understanding of politics knows that you cannot be an admirer of Savarkar and his cult without also getting contaminated by his association with Nathuram Godse. Of course, this is an inconvenient connection for any respectable politician, so hardly anyone at any level of seniority in the Sangh parivar will ever openly speak favourably about Gandhi’s assassin. Thakur felt she was low enough down the saffron food chain to speak her mind. “Godse was a deshbhakt, is a deshbhakt and will remain a deshbhakt. People calling him a terrorist should instead look within, such people will be given a fitting reply in the election,” she said.
Earlier, she had praised the terrorists who attacked Mumbai in 2008 for unleashing “karma” or divine retribution and killing Hemant Karkare, head of the Maharashtra police anti-terror squad and the officer whose investigative work had led to her arrest.
Pragya Thakur’s comments on Godse came at a bad moment for the BJP as the election campaign was in full swing, so the party quickly distanced itself from her view. Party president Amit Shah announced the BJP would take disciplinary action against her in 10 days, and Modi too made his now-famous remark that he could never ever forgive Thakur.
All of this was clearly humbug.
First of all, no one bothered to notice that Thakur did not really apologise for her appalling comment.
“My statement was not to hurt anyone’s feelings. If it has hurt anybody’s feelings then I apologise. What Gandhi Ji has done for the country cannot be forgotten. I respect him a lot,” she said.
So the apology was only if anyone’s feelings had been hurt by what she said. She then uttered some faint words of praise for Gandhi but did not withdraw her remark calling his assassin a deshbhakt. Moreover, she accused the media of distorting her remarks.
Not only did Thakur not apologise, Shah’s promise of disciplinary action was also eyewash.
What did the BJP disciplinary committee do?
Since the party has never said what action it took, I called up Avinash Rai Khanna – the BJP’s disciplinary committee chair – on Thursday to find out what he had done. He said that his committee had submitted its report and recommendations to the party president but it was up to him to decide what has to be done. “Our job is only to submit a report”, he said. He confirmed that he had submitted the report a while ago but received no word since, meaning Amit Shah probably has no intention of taking any disciplinary action.
Similarly, Modi’s claim of never being able to forgive Thakur for what she said was also an insincere comment, intended to tide over the momentary embarrassment she had caused.
Earlier, his government tried its best to get the terror charges against Pragya dropped. The National Investigation Agency told the Malegaon blasts trial court it did not want to proceed against her. But the court, which had already seen enough of the prosecution’s case, was not convinced.
In my view, the original sin the BJP committed was to bat for Pragya Thakur and her associates on the specious logic that terrorists cannot be Hindus. Under Modi, the NIA has sabotaged all the cases where Hindutva fanatics were accused of planting bombs, such as Ajmer Sharif, the Samjhauta Express, the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad.
So unsure were Modi and Shah of their accomplishments in government going into the 2019 Lok Sabha election that they communalised the campaign around the issue of these terror accused. Giving Pragya Thakur a ticket was a logical step. Modi and Shah knew exactly what kind of poison they were embracing. And thus India became the first country in the world to simultaneously rail against the threat that terrorism poses and bring to parliament a person accused of terrorist bombings.
People in the BJP can pretend otherwise, but Pragya Thakur is an embarrassment to India. She is an embarrassment to parliament and to its consultative committee. And, of course, she is an embarrassment to her political godfathers. Except that they themselves don’t know the meaning of the word.