Terror-accused BJP nominee triggers widespread anger - GulfToday

Terror-accused BJP nominee triggers widespread anger


Election officers carry electronic voting machines in Dharmsala, India, on Friday. Associated Press

For nearly a decade, Pragya Thakur was known mostly as the saffron-clad Hindu ascetic shuttling in and out of Indian courts, flanked by police, facing charges under an anti-terrorism law for plotting a bomb attack on Muslims.

Last month, the 49-year-old was fielded as a candidate by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the current general election, in which he is seeking a second term.

Overnight, Thakur, who has been out on bail since 2017, emerged as a symbol of a Hindu nationalist movement that is showing increasing intolerance towards Muslims in the Hindu-dominated nation.

The five years of Modi’s rule have seen an increasing number of attacks on Muslims by right-wing groups. But the brazenness of Thakur’s candidacy has still stunned many.

It’s the first time a leading political party in India has fielded a candidate accused of terrorism in an election.

“They are addressing a very extreme form of the Hindutva fold,” said Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a New Delhi-based biographer of Modi, referring to the BJP’s Hindu-first ideology.

On Friday Modi left journalists disappointed as he refused to answer questions at what Indian media had billed as his first-ever press conference as prime minister.

At the event in New Delhi, two days before the end of India’s mammoth election, Modi made a statement but then deflected journalists’ questions to the president of his party sat next to him.

“I am a disciplined soldier, party president is supreme,” Modi told one of two reporters who asked him a direct question.

Modi, 68, is notoriously shy of the media, having never given a press conference since becoming prime minister of the world’s largest democracy in 2014.

Critics say Modi knows in advance what he will be asked in television interviews and that the questions are soft and often fawning.

Police made new arrests following clashes and poured thousands of security forces into the eastern city of Kolkata on Friday as tensions mounted ahead of the final round of voting in India’s marathon election.

Thakur says she had nothing to do with the 2008 explosion near several mosques in the Muslim-majority town of Malegaon in western India. Six Muslims were killed and more than a hundred people injured. According to court filings, the motorcycle on which the explosives were strapped was Thakur’s, and she was among those who planned the attack to avenge “militant activities.”

Indian law allows candidates charged with crimes to contest elections, but not convicts. The trial against Thakur started in December but a final verdict is not expected anytime soon.

Modi and BJP leaders have come out strongly in defence of her candidature.

Thakur stirred fresh controversy on Thursday when she called the right-wing Hindu, Nathuram Godse, who killed India’s independence hero Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi in 1948, a patriot. “Those who call him a terrorist should look within. This election will deliver a fitting reply to such people,” she said.

The BJP quickly distanced itself from the comments and Thakur later apologised.

“Whatever has been said about Gandhiji or Godse (Nathuram Godse), it’s terrible,” Modi said in a television interview on Friday.

“In a civilised society, this kind of language and thinking does not work... I cannot forgive her.”

Thakur declined to be interviewed for this story. According to her family and supporters, she is a pious nationalist and champion of women’s rights who was a former youth politics leader known for fiery speeches.

Days after gaining the candidacy, Thakur boasted about her role in demolishing a 16th century mosque in the northern Ayodhya city in 1992 — an event that sparked some of India’s deadliest communal riots.

“I was there, I had broken the structure, and I will go back to build the temple,” Thakur said in a campaign speech, echoing BJP’s promise to build a temple at the mosque site.

The Supreme Court rejected a petition to bar her from contesting the election that was filed by Nisar Ahmed, whose 20-year-old son Syed Azhar was killed in the blast.

“My son was killed in the attack, and today a prime accused in that is standing in an election,” said Ahmed. “Is this how they give us justice?”


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