When the Congress announced the name of Mr Digvijay Singh from Bhopal, the usual rumour mills followed three or four story lines:
• Bhopal had been a safe constituency for the BJP and by bringing Singh, the Congress had tried to beard the party in its den.
• With a sizeable Muslim vote and apparent dissatisfaction among Sindhis, who also make up a significant vote bank, at the treatment meted to Mr Advani, Bhopal was now in play.
• With this nudge and suggestion is Mr Kamal Nath out to put Singh in his place? Either way this would be a victory for him. If Singh wins, Nath would be the first to take credit. If Singh loses, Nath would have put a rival turned political ally by virtue of having a common enemy – Mr Scindia – in his place and sealed his place in Bhopal.
• No one wants to fight against Singh from Bhopal in the present scenario and who will BJP nominate?
With such rumours there was a chance for the BJP to claim a certain high ground, especially over a law that the BJP had tried to make a centerpiece of its efforts at gender justice – the law against triple talaq. It would have made an enormous difference to the national conversation had the BJP tried to get Mr Arif Mohammad Khan to re-join the party and then fight against his former colleague.
Khan would have brought interesting credentials to the table. He resigned from the Congress over differences over the reversal of the Shah Bano judgement. He is knowledgeable and can engage in a debate on Muslim personal law even if his interpretation sits ill with others in the community. He has been a consistent supporter of the Triple Talaq legislation. Despite leaving the BJP he has had good words to say of the party and especially the prime minister over this legislation. Long before the BJP made this law about gender justice, Khan has been arguing for the same.
There is no doubt that Mr Khan has little connection with Bhopal. His roots are in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh. Born in Bulandshahar district, he has represented Bahraich and as a BJP candidate lost in Kaisarganj. Some would rightly call him a party-hopper. He has moved from Congress to Janata Dal to BSP to BJP. Some may question his interpretation of Islamic theology. Some may find him not too trustworthy. But what are these but cavils for any political party in choosing a candidate. And BJP is no exception.
So Khan could have been a candidate that would have not just burnished BJP’s gender justice credentials, but moderated, even if mildly, the view that it has no time and patience for Muslims. But what did the city get.
Ms. Pragya Thakur.
Her affidavit states that charges have been framed against her under numerous sections of the Indian Penal Code, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, Indian Explosives Prevention Act among others. And the charges are under those sections reserved for the most egregious offences like murder, attempt to murder and terrorist activity. She has sought discharge from these offences, but the case is still pending. And yet she was given the nomination.
It is not a question of whether this was expected of the BJP or could anything better have been expected. It is an example of how electoral politics is a race to the bottom – of ethics, of values, of rectitude.
With Khan there would have been an engaging battle to look forward to against Singh, the recent Narmada pilgrim who is increasingly seen with a tika. With Thakur it will be the rabid elements that will have a field day. Singh hoping the Muslims vote en bloc to keep Thakur out even as he sidles up to assorted Hindu sect leaders to flag his religious identity, and Thakur at her bright best offering nostrums and curses in equal measure.