Who is Sadhvi Pragya?

Sadhvi Pragya Thakur is an accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast case

Hindutva activist Pragya Singh Thakur, also known as Sadhvi Pragya, joined the BJP Wednesday following a meeting with senior party leaders in Bhopal. Thakur, who is contesting from the Bhopal constituency against Congress’ Digvijaya Singh, is currently out on bail in the 2008 Malegaon blast case.

An ABVP activist during her college days, Sadhvi Pragya had an affinity with the Hindu right-wing since her childhood. Her father, Chandrapal Singh Thakur, was actively involved with the RSS.

Belonging to the Bhind district in Madhya Pradesh, Pragya has even campaigned for the BJP in the state. She was arrested in 2009 in connection with the Malegaon blast case. Six people were killed and over 100 injured when an explosive device strapped on a motorcycle went off near a mosque in Malegaon, a town about 200 km from north Maharashtra, on September 29, 2008. The blast was allegedly carried by right-wing outfit Abhinav Bharat.

After nine years in jail, Sadhvi Pragya was given a clean chit by the NIA in 2015. This was months after special public prosecutor Rohini Salian told The Indian Express that the NIA had put pressure on her to go slow in the case. The court, however, rejected the NIA's views on Thakur and arraigned her as an accused under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

Later on, in December 2017, the Special NIA court dropped stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act charges against Pragya, Lieutenant Colonel Prasad Purohit and other accused in the blast case.

The accused, however, face trial under the UAPA for conspiring and abetting a terror act, and other charges, including murder and criminal conspiracy. All seven accused, currently out on bail, have pleaded not guilty. Thakur has said the charges were "false" and part of "a Congress conspiracy"

Hindutva groups have argued that the accused were framed by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, both to defame their cause and to excuse jihadist violence. The BJP has also slammed the Congress for inventing the term ‘Hindu terror" after the Malegaon blast.

In October last year, the NIA framed charges against Thakur and six other accused, including Purohit, ten years after the bomb blast.

The court had said that the seven accused, along with absconding accused Ramchandra Kalsangra and Sandeep Dange, hatched a criminal conspiracy between January and October 2008 to spread activities of the organisation, Abinav Bharat, and to strike terror and create a communal rift. The court said the absconding accused had on September 29, 2008, fitted an explosive device on a motorcycle and caused the blast.