Can The BJP Tame Loose Cannons Like Pragya Thakur?

NEW DELHI, INDIA - JULY 9: BJP MP Sadhvi Pragya Thakur arrives to attend the Bharatiya Janata Party Parliamentary Party meeting at Parliament Library on July 9, 2019 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

In the two months since the BJP first announced the candidature of Pragya Thakur, the legislator has courted three major controversies that have left at least some in the ruling party red-faced, with many others wondering whether the media is making a mountain out of a molehill.

Thakur’s recent comments that she had been elected to the Lok Sabha to work with state legislators, corporators and local bodies and not to clean drains and “definitely not to clean toilets” has caused momentary embarrassment to the BJP, which has slowly and steadily usurped Mahatma Gandhi as its symbol, leaving the Congress bereft of its very history.

Reports suggest that BJP national working president Jaiprakash Nadda immediately summoned the MP to party headquarters and gave her a dressing down. However, the party has been silent on the nature of the admonitions or how such views from a party MP relates to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much-publicized Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan.

Given that the party has quickly swept (ha!) the controversy under the carpet suggests that the BJP knows well enough that such comments at best have a shelf life of a single news cycle. For political parties, such leaders have a crucial role to play. Creating a controversy with ill-informed comments effectively shifts public attention from more important matters.

Donald Trump’s mediation offer in Kashmir was probably one such. In spite of some opposition leaders attempting to question the government on US-Pakistan relations and Trump’s comment which goes against India’s well-known stand on the issue, it was Thakur’s comment that generated more reactions on social media.

Even on past occasions, unsavory comments from Thakur has raised a few hackles and many more eyebrows but amounted to nothing concrete in terms of the party’s attempt to rein in the 49-year-old legislator who was specifically drafted to trounce Congress stalwart Digvijaya Singh from Bhopal during the 2019 General Elections.

Right after the BJP announced her candidature, Pragya Thakur, currently out on bail over her alleged role in the 2008 Malegaon blast case, got off on the wrong foot for suggesting that Hemant Karkare, who died in action during the 26/11 terror attack, was killed due to her curse– a statement that snowballed into a major crisis elections.

The dust had hardly settled on that when the leader set the cat amongst the pigeons yet again by suggesting that Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi, was a patriot. The then party president Amit Shah had sought an apology from the firebrand leader and post the incident, Prime Minister Narendra Modi went on record to state that he could never forgive Pragya Thakur for the comment even after her apology.

The party issued her a show-cause notice and referred the case to its disciplinary action committee, which then comprised just one member and is rudderless following the appointment of Ganeshi Lal as the Governor of Odisha last year. Though the committee has since been reconstituted, the report sought by Amit Shah following the Godse comment has still not seen the light of the day.

It may be recalled that Narendra Modi, while addressing the BJP Parliamentary Board, earlier this month had categorically stated that “arrogance and misbehavior won’t be tolerated” by the party, though this was in reference to party MLA Akash Vijayvargiya who was accused of assaulting a state government official.

So will the state leadership follow up on Modi’s intent with the right course of action? The party did act against one of its members in Uttarakhand recently though: it expelled MLA Pranav Singh Champion from the party for six years over a video in which the leader was showing dancing and brandishing a pistol. It also issued a show-cause notice to its MLA from Bhopal Surendranath Singh who had reportedly threatened to “spill the blood” state chief minister Kamal Nath.

The question now is whether the BJP will follow up its words with some action, or will it allow such loose cannons to explode once in a while, just to keep the Hindutva narrative flowing?