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BHOPAL: A Hindu ascetic accused of plotting a bomb attack on Muslims in India defeated an opposition strongman by a big margin on Thursday as her ruling Hindu nationalist party won a massive victory in the country’s general election.
Pragya Thakur, contesting from the central city of Bhopal for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is the first person accused of terrorism to be fielded by a major political group in India.
Latest Election Commission data showed she had received 69 percent more votes than her opponent, Digvijaya Singh, a two-term chief minister of Madhya Pradesh state and a senior member of the main opposition Congress party.
Final results are likely to come later in the day, but two TV stations said she had won, spooking many Muslims.
“This will be a victory of religion,” Thakur, clad in her usual saffron, told reporters.
The 49-year-old – described as a pious nationalist, fiery orator and champion of women’s rights by her family members – stoked a controversy this month by calling the killer of India’s independence hero, Mohandas Gandhi, a patriot.
Modi said he would never be able to forgive her for the remark.
Many voters said Thakur’s election was more a reflection of their desire to see Modi as prime minister for another term than anything else.
“She’s only popular because people are voting for Modi, otherwise people don’t know her much,” said Osama Khalid, a Muslim running a lemon juice stall by a busy street.
“I had voted for Congress. Everything I have heard about Pragya Thakur is bad. She has spent time in jail.”
Thursday’s victory completes Thakur’s emergence to prominence alongside the rapid rise of a Hindu nationalist movement since Modi first took office in 2014, and which is showing increasing intolerance towards minority Muslims.
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