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In Ajmer, nationalism ‘judge’ BJP faces questions on Pragya

"How can Narendra Modi, who rails at terrorism, field a terror accused in the Lok Sabha elections?" asks priest

  • Published 29.04.19, 5:54 AM
  • Updated 29.04.19, 5:56 AM
  • 3 mins read
Pragya Singh Thakur (PTI)

Mohammed Mustaqim, a khadim (priest) at the Ajmer Sharif dargah in Rajasthan, still “shudders” when he remembers the explosion at the Sufi shrine in October 2007 that killed three people and injured 17.

More so, when he remembers the identity of one of the initial suspects: Pragya Singh Thakur, now BJP candidate from Bhopal in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh.

The National Investigation Agency had probed and exonerated her for want of evidence. It also cleared her of the September 2008 Malegaon blasts but this time the trial court overruled it, saying there was “prima facie evidence” against her. Pragya, facing trial over the blasts in the Maharashtra town, is out on bail.

“How can Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who rails at terrorism, field a terror accused in the Lok Sabha elections?” Mustaqim wondered. “This must be the first time a person facing terror charges is contesting elections in the country.”

The 60-year-old priest unleashed a torrent of questions: Would the BJP still have fielded Pragya had the victims in Malegaon been Hindus? Or, if Pragya had been a Muslim? Would the BJP have spared another party if it had fielded a terror accused?

“Why is nobody putting these questions to the BJP, which styles itself the judge of who is a ‘nationalist’ and who a ‘traitor’ but is now openly endorsing a terror accused?” he said.

Brajesh Pandey, a high school teacher in Ajmer, accused Modi of doublespeak on terror.

“Modi is defending Pragya, who was once a suspect in the Ajmer blast and now faces trial over the Malegoan blast. This is unbecoming of a Prime Minister,” he said.

He wondered why Modi had never spoken a word on how Muslim youths were framed in terror cases and later acquitted by the courts, sometimes after having spent more than a decade in jail.

“Terrorists do not belong to any religion. A good Hindu or a good Muslim cannot engage in such nefarious and anti-national activities,” the schoolteacher asserted.

Pandey is outraged at Pragya’s comment that her “curse” had caused Hemant Karkare, the Maharashtra anti-terrorist squad chief who had arrested her in the Malegaon case, to be killed by Pakistani terrorists during the November 2008 siege of Mumbai.

“She is anti-national. Indeed, she has to belong to the tukde tukde gang for insulting a police officer who made the supreme sacrifice for his country and received the highest (peacetime) gallantry award,” Pandey said.

Tukde tukde gang” is a term the BJP and its supporters have coined to refer to liberals and Leftists who it believes are out to break India up into “tukde tukde” (fragments).

In a TV interview, Modi has defended fielding Pragya, underlining that all the (Hindu) accused in the Samjhauta Express blast have been acquitted and asserting that her candidature is a “symbolic reply” to those accusing Hindus of terrorism.

“I still shudder at the thought of the blast at the dargah,” Mustaqim said. “How can one comprehend somebody doing something as terrible as setting off a bomb at one of the country’s most secular shrines?”

The shrine, which contains the tomb of the 12th-century Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, attracts people from across faiths and is seen as a symbol of communal harmony. The low-intensity blast took place when thousands were breaking their daylong Ramazan fast after sundown.

“I saw blood on the floor and terrified children and their parents crying and running helter-skelter,” Mustaqim recalled.

Athar Khan, a florist outside the dargah, stressed that the Ajmer Sharif blast was the only terror strike in which Sangh pracharaks had been convicted.

A court had two years ago convicted pracharaks Sunil Joshi (who was already dead), Devender Gupta and Bhavesh Patel, who were said to be close to Pragya. But the NIA let off Pragya, Sangh senior Indresh Kumar and two others for lack of evidence.

“There’s a difference between a court declaring a person innocent and an investigative agency letting a suspect off for want of evidence,” said Qutbuddin Ahmed, a maulana in Ajmer town.

“In the Malegaon case, the court rejected the NIA’s plea and ruled that there was prima facie evidence against Pragya. We hope justice will be delivered this time.”

The investigations into the September 2008 Malegaon blasts had unearthed a trail linking Hindu extremists to the terror attacks on Ajmer Sharif, the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad (May 2007) and the Samjhauta Express (February 2007).

Rahmak Karim, another khadim at the dargah, said the shrine continued to remain the symbol of harmony it always was.

“Political leaders and supporters from both the Congress and the BJP come to pray for their parties’ success in the Lok Sabha polls. We are neutral and are praying for everyone,” he said.

The Brahma temple in Pushkar, barely an hour’s drive from Ajmer, too is witnessing “election tourism”. The town bordering the Thar desert is decked out with colourful lights and plastered with the flags and posters of Congress and BJP candidates.

“The candidates and their supporters are visiting the temple to seek blessings. The temple does not discriminate: I am praying for both parties,” priest Amit Bhardwaj, who seemed to be in his mid-40s, said.

  • Ajmer votes on April 29.