Earlier this week, a section of BJP supporters were outraged when the party cracked down on Bhopal MP Sadhvi Pragya Thakur. Sadhvi had allegedly defended Nathuram Godse, the killer of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, in parliament. BJP’s working president JP Nadda condemned the incident, and announced that she would be removed from a parliamentary committee that she had been appointed to recently. Her appointment to the committee had caused a major meltdown among the liberal elite.
Sadhvi’s remarks and Nadda’s reaction opened a pandora’s box. It left both sides of the political spectrum incensed. The liberal elites called for Sadhvi’s expulsion from both parliament and party, claiming that the BJP’s actions were too little and too late. On the other hand, many BJP supporters threw their weight behind Sadhvi. They believed that the party should have brazened it out, and the concerns of the liberal elite should have been dumped into the waste bins of history. The Shiv Sena, formerly a Godse-supporting outfit, forming a government with the Congress in Maharashtra added fuel to the fire. As did Rahul Gandhi who called Sadhvi a terrorist, and his MLA in Rajasthan who threatened to burn her alive.
In all this din, the explanation Sadhvi offered was lost on people. She claimed that she had never spoken about Nathuram Godse to begin with, and that she was referring to another individual in her allegedly inappropriate remark. But by the time her side of the story emerged, people were on their own trip. A massive debate had ensued about Godse’s nationalism, and inevitably, about Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and whether his ‘father of the nation’ status befitted him. One cannot help but wonder why the BJP did not take the easy way out- that is to stick to Sadhvi’s version and claim that she was referring to another individual all along. Of course, an even easier way out, a real demonstration of intent, would have been to get rid of Sadhvi altogether. None of these reactions though would have provoked a public debate. Perhaps, a public debate is what the BJP was seeking.
During the Lok Sabha elections, Sadhvi, the then BJP candidate from the Bhopal constituency, had provoked a similar debate. Although her remarks earned a sharp rebuke from Prime Minister Modi, it was without doubt a risky proposition for the BJP. After all, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi continues to be an important brand, a brand that Prime Minister Modi has himself invoked in initiatives such as the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Sadhvi won from Bhopal comfortably, as did the BJP, which returned with 303 seats. Whether people still cared for Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi or not, it was evident that their votes were too precious to be wasted on avenging the dignity of a past icon. Interestingly, during the 1952 Lok Sabha elections, Congressmen had gone around in the villages telling people that Gandhi’s soul resided in ballot boxes and would keep a tab on whether they voted for the Congress or not. Of the 17 crore electorate, more than 15 crore were illiterate and many fell prostrate before the ballot boxes while casting their votes.
Jump all you want about Sadhvi Pragya but the woman has arrived, and she brings a debate that will not go away.
— Shubhangi Tiwari (@shubh19822) November 28, 2019
India has come a long way, and the story of a changing India, especially in some of its most fundamental aspects, is perhaps best represented with the advent of somebody like Sadhvi Pragya. The circumstances of her candidature are interesting for any student of Indian politics. That a fraudulent construct such as saffron terror was created out of thin air, that saffron-clad Sadhus and Sadhvis were falsely implicated and tortured, were civilizational humiliations that the nation was forced to swallow and look the other way. Meanwhile, a shameless display of twisted secularism had become the norm, and one had no option but to abide by it, because the liberal elite had said so. When Rahul Gandhi, anticipating a defeat in Amethi and sensing a chance to consolidate the minority vote shifted base to Wayanad, the Modi-Shah duo decided to turn the entire charade on its head. Sadhvi was fielded against Digvijay Singh, the foremost proponent of saffron terror. When asked by a bitter mainstream media if her candidature was solely to send out a message, the BJP leadership refused to get defensive. They confirmed that it was indeed to send out a message, leaving the media and the liberal elite dumbfounded.
And the message is hitting home. Whether Sadhvi gets to be on parliamentary committees, or whether she is rebuked by the party bosses, is of little consequence. Her presence in parliament serves as a giant middle finger to India’s liberal elite. Their idea of India will no longer go unchallenged. Whether it is the color of terrorism or who gets to be the father of our nation, constructs that had become unwavering realities of public discourse will now be debated on a level playing field. The genius of Sadhvi being the deliverer of this message is that she has been sent to parliament by the people. Oftentimes, the liberal elite escaped from debates by branding their adversaries as fringe elements, conspiracy theorists, trolls and the like. This will no longer be an option. Additionally, whether the liberal elite like it or not, every debate will be forcibly democratized.
Whether these controversies are carefully choreographed to provoke public debates that shatter the very foundations of supposedly established truths, is anyone’s guess. But make no mistake, the message is hitting home.