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Pragya pits Advani versus Rajnath

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT in Delhi
  • Published 2.11.08
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New Delhi, Nov. 2: L.K. Advani wants to distance the BJP from Pragya Singh; party president Rajnath Singh wants to defend the sadhvi arrested in the Malegoan blast case.

Advani recently told the media that Pragya may have once been in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s student arm, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, but her “thoughts and methods” were at odds with the parivar’s and so she had left.

Advani cited the example Nathuram Godse, saying he was associated with the Sangh early in his life but left it in 1934 because he disagreed with its working. But even so, after Godse killed Gandhi on January 30, 1948, the Sangh was “hounded” because of the past association.

Two days later, Rajnath claimed Pragya had been “framed” by Maharashtra police’s anti-terrorism squad (ATS). “Anyone who believes in the ideology of cultural nationalism cannot ever be a terrorist,” he told a newspaper.

Last week, however, Rajnath appeared to take a step back saying photographs showing him and Pragya had embarrassed him and denied he had defended her, a PTI report said. “I did feel a little embarrassed but… the whole country knows my (innocence in the matter),” he was quoted as saying.

Still, BJP sources acknowledged that there were “two or more” opinions in the party on Pragya’s arrest but wished the top leaders had not voiced the different views in public.

Rajnath loyalists said the Sangh had prodded him to speak up for Pragya after several swayamsevaks “complained” against Advani’s statements.

“We have embryonic relations with many Hindu organisations. If an individual is implicated in a case, is it right for the organisation to wash its hands of him or her?” one of Rajnath’s political aides said.

“Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad have batted for Simi (the banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India). The vice-chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia offered legal help to students arrested over the Delhi blasts (a move the BJP had criticised). A former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister publicly defended Afzal Guru and said he shouldn’t be hanged. Why shouldn’t we speak up for a sadhvi even if she is no longer a Sangh member?”

The other reasons for Rajnath’s stand are:

Disowning Pragya would strengthen accusations of “Hindu terror”. A general secretary said: “This is disastrous for us before the state elections, especially in Madhya Pradesh.”

Uma Bharti’s championing of the sadhvi, whom she has offered an Assembly poll ticket, and her attacks on the BJP for “disowning” Pragya.

The “lack of evidence” against Pragya. “The investigations haven’t yielded anything so far. The arrest is just the Congress’s way of telling Muslims the system is even-handed,” the Rajnath aide said.

The Congress’s defensive postures have emboldened Rajnath. A senior Congress leader admitted: “We cannot afford to go over the top on the Malegaon arrests for fear of a Hindu backlash. Hindus may ask what we were doing about the Islamic groups involved in the blasts over the past four years.”