NEW DELHI/BHOPAL: Bhopal can brace itself for a highly divisive election campaign.

The politics of hate and supremacism that has coated the Indian democratic landscape in recent years, peaks with the Bharatiya Janata Party’s decision to field Malegaon terror blast accused Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur as its Lok Sabha candidate from Bhopal. She will be contesting Congress party’s Digvijay Singh.

Thakur, herself a resident of Bhind district in Madhya Pradesh, is accused of a hand in the Malegaon terror blasts and was the first to be arrested in the case in October 2008. The face of right wing terror, she was granted bail by the Bombay High Court in 2017. Six persons were killed and over 100 injured in a bomb blast near a mosque in Malegaon in north Maharashtra on September 29, 2008.

Thakur joined the BJP and within hours was declared its Bhopal candidate against the Congress party’s Digvijay Singh, who tweeted, “I welcome Sadhvi Pragyaji in Bhopal and hope that the picturesque city’s peaceful, educated and dignified environment would attract you.”

And added in a second tweet, “I pray to Maa (goddess) Narmada for Sadhviji and seek blessing from Narmadaji (holy river) so that we all walk the path of truth, non-violence and religion. Narmada Har (glory be to the Narmada).”

Thakur is from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Singh, having been an active member of both its student and women wings. Her name started doing the rounds last month at which time she expressed her willingness to take on Digivijay Singh, describing him as “an anti-Hindu leader who called Hindus terrorists”. She set the agenda then, and BJP President Amit Shah follows it now by announcing her candidature.

Shah made it very clear that the decision to field Thakur against Singh was prompted by the Congress leader’s remarks against “bhagwa (saffron) terror”. Singh has been an unapologetic critic of the RSS, to a point where his remarks have made the Congress party itself defensive. He has morphed into the bete noire of the BJP and the RSS, intensely disliked by both.

Thakur will be his nemesis, claimed Shah, setting the agenda for a campaign that can be expected to touch the lows of polarisation and hate. Thakur herself has made it apparent, that her focus will be on busting Singh’s campaign by placing him in the dock for hurting the sentiments of Hindus.

The reason for her candidature is not far to seek. Singh in deciding to contest the elections chose the Bhopal Lok Sabha seat, which has been with the BJP for 30 years now. He was clearly counting on the three of seven Assembly segments won by the Congress in last winter’s polls, and in his own ability to wean away a section of the upper caste vote.

The RSS, smarting under his attack on the organisation with his remarks on “bhagwa terror” decided to field a candidate who has gone to jail for the cause, and is in their view the victim of Congress policies.

The BJP/RSS has tried to kill two birds with Sadhvi Thakur. One, to use the election campaign to polarise communities by showcasing the “anti-Hindu” stance of Singh and the Congress party. This will set the tone for what Congress leaders here have said will be a nasty, divisive campaign, and will further the communal agenda on which rests the larger BJP campaign across north India.

And, more importantly, in Thakur’s candidature the RSS and BJP have sent out a strong message to the cadres that they will stand by their own. To the point of fielding a Lok Sabha candidate accused of terrorist acts. This is in line with several instances in the recent past of the perpetrators of violence being rewarded for their efforts.

Muzaffarnagar violence accused Sangeet Som was garlanded and rewarded by the party in a show of support. Senior BJP leader Jayant Sinha felicitated men convicted by a fast track court for a horrific lynching in Jharkhand. And BJP leaders were part of a procession in Jammu demanding the release of those accused in the ghastly rape and murder of a little child, Asifa.

Thakur is the first accused terrorist to be embraced at this level, being not only inducted into the party but fielded as its Lok Sabha candidate for the Bhopal parliamentary seat. Her brazen appointment sets the tone for the BJP/RSS agenda after the elections, where the Lok Sabha will see a BJP that is far more radicalised.

The signal is of hard Hindutva, “a do not mess with us” that has a terror blast accused taking on a former Union Home Minister and Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh.

The BJP’s Alok Sanjar is the sitting MP from Bhopal.