26 - 05 - 2019

Sadhvi Pragya no stranger to controversy

The BJP nominee from Bhopal, Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, may have tried to retract her comments about former Mumbai Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) chief Hemant Karkare, but the firebrand leader has been consistently making controversial remarks. 

Her ties with the BJP had been strained on account of Shivraj Singh Chouhan regime’s move to arrest her in 2008 and 2011. On October 25-26, 2008, the Madhya Pradesh Police had raided Pragya’s ashram-cum-residence in Jabalpur, confiscating a diary and some video cassettes.

Pragya, who holds a master’s degree in history, is known for her provocative speeches.  She was once heard saying that destruction leads to ‘construction’.  In 2017, when Pragya was acquitted of the murder of former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) pracharak Sunil Joshi, she had remarked, “Truth has prevailed. One nationalist can’t kill another nationalist. It was a conspiracy hatched by four-five leaders to defame the nationalists.”

However, in his judgment, additional District Judge Rajiv M Apte, while acquitting her and seven others, had wondered why the Madhya Pradesh Police and the NIA failed to establish the role of Pragya and other accused in the murder case. “There is nothing that establishes beyond reasonable doubt how these accused conspired and coordinated among themselves. There is nothing that establishes how the murder was executed and how evidence was destroyed, as mentioned in the chargesheet,” the judge had noted in paragraphs 124 and 125 of the judgment.  

Joshi, himself an RSS activist and wanted in terror-related cases such as the Samjhauta Express and Malegaon blasts, was murdered at Dewas in December 2007. The subsequent police chargesheet had said that Joshi was killed for making sexual advances towards Pragya. 

Pragya’s lawyer Raghuveer Yardi had also quoted parts of Judge Apte’s order to point out her ‘innocence’. He had said then, “The court observed that the analysis of evidence gathered by the police and the NIA reveals that in sensitive and serious cases like murder, both prosecution agencies carried out the investigation with prejudice.” He further remarked, “They (police and NIA) didn’t conduct the investigation seriously and the self-contradictory and weak evidences of the agencies were insufficient to convict the accused and the contradictory pari-materia (a rule of statutory interpretation) makes the prosecution highly suspicious.” Pragya is a known figure in Madhya Pradesh’s BJP circles. A resident of Gwalior, she is said to have had a fiery temperament in her younger days. She reportedly fell out with her father and family after they refused to firm up her matrimonial alliance with a BJP leader. A somewhat dejected Pragya said she opted to take sanyas and joined Swami Avadheshanand Giri, a spiritual guru whose followers included senior Congress leader late Arjun Singh. 

Pragya was also part of the ABVP, the student wing of the BJP, and Durga Vahini, the women’s wing of the Vishva Hindu Parishad. In 2001, she is said to have got herself photographed practising rifle shooting at a camp organised by the Durga Vahini, which was established in 1991; its founding chairperson was the firebrand Sadhvi Rithambara. The VHP insists that the purpose of the Durga Vahini was to encourage more women to participate in prayer meetings and cultural activities.

Interestingly, a section of the BJP in Madhya Pradesh has always been uncomfortable with the Pragya issue. When the Shivraj Singh Chouhan regime booked her in the Sunil Joshi murder case in 2008, there were voices against Chouhan. A group of sadhus, under the guise of ‘Dharma Sena’ based in Ujjain then, had threatened to launch a stir if Pragya was not released. Chouhan had rejected their plea. A large section of Cabinet ministers, including Chouhan, had backed the state police to book her. 

When the 2008 Assembly polls were being held, a video did the rounds in political circles, showing Sadhvi Pragya in the company of Chouhan and then BJP president Rajnath Singh. The video was shot at a condolence meeting of a BJP MLA from Madhya Pradesh. 

Former Chief Minister Uma Bharti, who was incidentally also a contender for the Bhopal Lok Sabha seat this time, had sided with Pragya then. She had expressed a desire to visit Pragya in jail. Uma, who was expelled from the BJP then and was heading an obscure Bharatiya Janshakti Party, had repeatedly accused the parent organisation of ‘disowning’ Pragya. She had remarked, “I am shocked and it is shameful that the BJP is disowning Pragya and all their affiliated organisations are disowning her. When they wanted, they used her.” She had asked Rajnath Singh to be “courageous enough” to stand by Pragya. 

Chouhan’s virtual number two in the state Cabinet then, Kailash Vijayvargiya, had promised to offer free legal aid to her. Vijayvargiya had been openly backing Pragya throughout her trial(s).  

In an interview, he remarked, “I know her from the Ujjain Kumbh Mela (2004) days at Ujjain.” Vijayvargiya had made a sensational comment that he had met Pragya at the residence of Ajay Singh, son of former Union Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh. Ajay, a former Leader of the Opposition in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly, is the Congress’ Lok Sabha nominee from Sidhi. 

Vijayvargiya had said, “I feel she (Pragya) has nothing to do anything with any form of violence. The arrest of Sadhvi Pragya and a few others is part of conspiracy hatched by the Congress. If by mere chance, they are found to be involved in any kind of violent activities, the BJP should do atmachintan (introspection).” Vijayvargiya is currently BJP national general secretary in charge of Bengal.

 

Rasheed Kidwai
Senior journalist & author