What is it with 17/11 and death of Hindu nationalists?
Thackeray and Singhal may be criticised for their 'divisive' Hindutva brand of politics, but they changed the national destiny.
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Senior Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Ashok Singhal died in Gurgaon on November 17 after a brief illness. Ironically, he died on the third death anniversary of former Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, as well as the 87th of freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai. The great freedom fighter died in 1928 after sustaining fatal injuries in a police lathicharge while leading a non-violent protest against the Simon Commission. This may be a sheer coincidence, but there are also some other striking similarities between the three - particularly between Thackeray and Singhal.
1. Hindu nationalism
Known for being a part of the Hindu reform movement in the early 20th century, Rai has been described as "a pillar of extremist nationalism in India". His association with the Hindu Mahasabha attracted criticism as it was considered non-secular and it did not conform to the principles laid down by the Indian National Congress, of which he was a leading figure. Similarly, both Thackeray and Singhal were Hindu nationalists and subscribed to extreme views. Both the leaders took stands which were considered anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan. Thackeray and his Shiv Sena were blamed by the Srikrishna Commission for inciting violence against Muslims during the 1992-1993 Mumbai riots. Singhal was a leading figure in the anti-Babri Masjid movement and, along with Thackeray, was initially an accused in its demolition on December 6, 1992. However, their names were dropped from FIR later on. Singhal had also raised his voice against the alleged "love jihad" and vowed to end it.
The similarities between Rai, on the one hand, and Thackeray and Singhal, on the other, end here. While Rai was a Congress leader and was elected its president in 1920, the rise of Thackeray and Singhal can be attributed to anti-Congressism. Their politics revolved around the alleged appeasement of Muslims by the Congress. Both of them may be criticised for their "divisive" Hindutva brand of politics, but they created a mass support base for their organisations which changed the national destiny once and for all.
3. Role in the rise of the BJP
Both Thackeray and Singhal played a major role, directly or indirectly, in the rise of the BJP. Thackeray and Shiv Sena's role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid helped polarise votes and the BJP too benefited from it. The two parties formed the government in Maharashtra in 1995. They are in alliance in the state even now after the 2014 Assembly elections.
While the BJP had won just two seats in the 1984 Lok Sabha election, its tally shot up to 161 in the 1996 election and 182 in the 1998 election. The BJP owes its rise to the anti-Babri movement, which catapulted it to power. Singhal and his VHP played a decisive role in the movement.
In another coincidence, both Thackeray and Singhal were octogenarians. While Thackeray died at the age of 86 years, Singhal was 89 years when he breathed his last.