Ujjwal Nikam versus Ajmal Kasab: The BJP’s campaign pitch in Mumbai North Central

Former special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam contesting the Lok Sabha election from the Mumbai North Central constituency election rally at Mumbai’s Andheri on 30 April 2024. Nikam represented the state in the Mumbai terror attack case, and the BJP is currently pitching the election as choosing between him or terrorism. Satish Bate/Hindustan Times
Elections 2024
18 May, 2024

“We are mainly focused on terrorists,” Lakshmilal Jain, a Bharatiya Janata Party worker, told me when I asked about the BJP campaign in the Mumbai North Central Lok Sabha constituency. It was an odd answer, one that did not fit easily into an election fought over unemployment, affirmative action and India’s position on the world stage. It was even odder, because the BJP’s primary opponent in the seat was Varsha Gaikwad of the Congress, an Ambedkarite Buddhist who cut her teeth representing Dharavi, the world’s third largest slum. But, as far as all the BJP workers I spoke to were concerned, the Congress, or even the issues being analysed in the media, did not matter. All that there was to speak about was their candidate, Ujjwal Nikam—one of the most high-profile and attention-grabbing public prosecutors in India.

At a rally in the constituency’s Chandivali assembly segment, the BJP and its allies did not mention Gaikwad even once. The person who was named multiple times, on the other hand, was Ajmal Kasab, a Pakistani member of the Lashkar-e-Toiba who was the only person to be convicted and executed for his role in the November 2008 terror attack that killed 166 people in Mumbai. Nikam was the special public prosecutor representing the Maharashtra government in Kasab’s trial. Having earlier denied harbouring any political ambitions, he is now selling himself to the electorate as the man who sent Kasab to the gallows. The loudest slogan at the Chandivali rally was “Jisne kıya atankvadiyon ko khatam, wohi toh hai apne Ujjwal Nikam”—the one who finished off the terrorists is our Ujjwal Nikam.

“I will speak in the same manner that I do when I am in court,” Nikam said, early in his speech. He claimed to have been indecisive about joining politics as recently as two weeks earlier, though a 2015 profile of Nikam in The Caravan notes that he had attempted to get a BJP ticket in 2014. “I consider myself a patriot and work as one,” Nikam, who denied his 2014 aspirations at the time, said at the rally. “Therefore, I have joined a party of patriots.” Raucous applause followed. “He is a very good man who has always fought on behalf of the government and never for money,” a BJP worker, who refused to be named, told me. “People know that he fought to expose a man like Ajmal Kasab in front of the whole world.” According to the Caravan profile, Nikam was charging Rs 40,000 per appearance at the time, in addition to Rs 15,000 in consultation and accommodation fees.