On Wednesday, BJP MP Pragya Thakur made headlines for her interruption during a debate in the Lok Sabha. She repeated her view that convicted killer and Hindu nationalist Nathuram Godse, who shot 'Mahatma' Gandhi to death, was a patriot. She had articulated these views earlier too, ahead of the 2019 General Elections, in which she won from the Bhopal parliamentary constituency as the BJP candidate. Recently, the Malegaon blast accused was nominated to the parliamentary consultative committee of the Ministry of Defence even as she is being tried by a National Investigation Agency court.
While she has not regretted her views lauding the assassin, BJP Working President JP Nadda told ANI on Thursday that her remarks were ‘condemnable’. She was removed from the Lok Sabha defence panel and barred from attending BJP's parliamentary party meetings.
But what, in the debate, prompted Pragya Thakur to interject and repeat her extremist views?
It was a speech being given by DMK MP A Raja, who was— ironically— explaining the need for different political parties to rise above party ideology and be objective. The House was debating the Special Protection Group (Amendment) Bill, 2019 introduced by the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Bill amends the existing provisions to restrict the special security unit's coverage to just the Prime Minister and his immediate family who reside with him. Specifically, the Bill excludes SPG coverage to family members of a former Prime Minister who don't live with him or her. Moreover, those who do live with a former Prime Minister will only be able to avail the protection of SPG commandos for a period of five years.
The Bill from the BJP government has been criticised as one that targets the Gandhi family, particularly its present members and Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi. Two former Prime Ministers from the party— Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi— were assassinated over long-held political beliefs.
Explaining that the assessment of a threat to a leader must not be politically-coloured, Raja quoted two examples. First, the assassination of Michael O'Dwyer, the British colonial Lieutenant Governor of Punjab between 1912 and 1919 who oversaw the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
Raja said, “In 1940, a small boy who witnessed the massacre in 1919, got patriotic, and in 1940 after 21 years, he went to London and fired and killed General Dwyer, who was responsible for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. What was the modus operandi of Sardar Udham Singh? What was the mens rea (intention to commit crime) of Sardar Udham Singh? So, the threat to Dyer whether it is right or wrong, whether it is in the negative sense or in the positive sense, in the name of patriotism, continued for 21 years.”
The second example he cited was the one that triggered a response from MP Pragya Thakur— the assassination of Gandhi. The DMK MP quoted Godse's appeal affidavit before an appellate court where Godse was being tried for the murder of Gandhi.
“It says: ‘The accumulating provocation of 32 years, culminating in his last pro Muslim fast, at last goaded me to the conclusion that the existence of Gandhi should be brought to an end immediately.’ Having said that, he made another statement in the same affidavit. It says: ‘I bear no ill will towards anyone including Gandhi individually but I do say that I had no respect for the present Government owing to their policy which was unfairly favourable towards the Muslims. But, at the same time, I could clearly see that the policy was entirely due to the presence of Mr. Gandhi.’”
Thus, Raja explained, resentment harboured over ideological differences persists over time and threats arising from them need to be objectively assessed.
“I would very precisely say that the threat will not vanish with the person. The threat will go along with the policy for which the person was responsible and he was assassinated. In that sense, if Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated for a policy or the Congress Party is running with a philosophy or a policy or a principle which is not suitable to anybody, still I think that threat will continue. That should be assessed properly. An objective test, a litmus test must be mooted and it should be resolved. Unless and until it is resolved, these types of amendments will definitely get a political colour,” the MP reasoned.
Interrupting Raja mid-speech, Pragya shouted, "You cannot give the example of 'deshbhakts' (patriots)."