Bringing its Hindutva plank to the fore, the BJP on Wednesday fielded Malegaon blast case accused Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur in Lok Sabha elections from Bhopal against Congress heavyweight and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijaya Singh. Out on bail, Thakur has been discharged by a court on charges under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) in the 2008 case but is still facing trial under other criminal provisions.

The BJP’s choice of the 48-year-old saffron activist underlines its efforts to corner the Congress as its top leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah, have often accused the opposition party of coining the “Hindu terror” phrase and slapping “false” terror cases on Hindutva activists when the UPA was in power.

At a rally in Odisha, Shah on Wednesday described Digvijaya Singh as the “creator” of “saffron terror” phrase.

The BJP has decided to take the matter to the “people’s court” by fielding Thakur against Singh, he said, accusing the Congress of defaming India by coining terms like “Hindu terror” and “saffron terror”.

Referring to the acquittal of several accused, including Swami Aseemanand, in Samjhauta express blast case, he attacked the Congress and said people of Bhopal will punish Singh and Congress president Rahul Gandhi.

A senior BJP leader said the party decide to field Thakur, who joined it hours before her candidature was announced, against Singh as he has been one of the most visible “anti-Hindutva” faces of the Congress. Also being a high-profile seat as the Madhya Pradesh capital, it can help rally support for the BJP across the state and even outside, he added.

Digvijaya Singh has been a bitter critic of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the ideological guide of the BJP, and had allegedly linked it to 2008 Mumbai terror attack carried out by Pakistani terrorists.

Bhopal, which has a strong Muslim presence, has been a BJP citadel as the party has held the seat uninterrupted since 1989.

Among other candidates, the BJP has named Raj Bahadur Singh and Ramakant Bhargav as its nominees from Sagar and Vidisha respectively.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had won from Vidisha in 2014 but she had announced that she will not fight the polls this time due to health reasons.

K P Yadav will be the BJP nominee from Guna, which is held by senior Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia who is contesting again from here.

Several BJP leaders hailed the party’s decision to field Thakur in the polls.

Its vice president Vinay Sahasrabuddhe said she “symbolises the fighting spirit of a woman, the courage for braving unspeakable torture for victory of truth and above all our relentless struggle to free democracy from crass vote bank politics”.

Hindutva votary and another party leader Subramanian Swamy said Thakur had “suffered enormously” and was a “victim” of Congress agenda.

Calling her innocent and devoted to religion, Swamy played down other charges she is facing, saying “those are in final stages of being dismissed”.