Newfound love for Pravin Togadia unmasks Congress' Hindutva agenda
The Rahul Gandhi's party's occasional dalliance with the RSS has been known.
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VHP leader Pravin Togadia’s allegations about "conspiracy to kill him to weaken the Hindutva forces" sound as startling as the Congress’s overtures to him appear to be confounding.
But pause for a moment to think and you will see that it’s neither startling nor confounding. The Togadia episode fits in well with the current politics of the BJP as well as the Congress.
The international working president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has been out in the cold for the past many years. He is of no use to BJP stalwarts Narendra Modi and Amit Shah in their home state.
Togadia had no role to play in the Gujarat Assembly elections or its politics for a long time now. Modi has been winning the state elections on his own steam since 2001. In the early years, Togadia’s rabble-rousing, Muslim-baiting rhetoric helped mobilise VHP workers in Modi’s favour, but gradually Modi cut him to size.
Notwithstanding his nuisance value and hate speeches, Togadia, perhaps, was an asset for the BJP before and during the Vajpayee era. So were Ashok Singhal, assortment of sants and sadhus and many of Sangh Parivar motor mouths.
But the Ayodhya issue gradually lost momentum after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Although it prepared the ground for the first BJP-led government at the Centre, the party realised it was running out of agendas to keep the Hindutva pot boiling.
Until Modi strode across the Gujarat landscape as he became chief minister in 2001. Soon 2002 riots happened and Modi burst onto the national scene.
After the riots, Modi had no need for Togadia and his ilk in Gujarat. He emerged at the head of the hardline Hindutva, as its most potent mascot. He was capable of packaging VHP, Bajrang Dal, LK Advani and Vajpayee in one heady mix that became brand Modi. He could do everything that Togadia was capable of, and much more, but in a subtler manner.
By Modi's second term as chief minister, Togadia and VHP became virtually irrelevant in Gujarat. The VHP and Bajrang Dal lost traction. In 2007 Assembly elections, Modi forced Togadia to stay out of Gujarat.
In 2012 elections, a desperate Togadia tried to stage a comeback. He threw his lot with rebel BJP leader and former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, but results reaffirmed Modi’s invincibility. The people of Gujarat had bought into Modi's cocktail of development and Hindutva.
Despite Modi facing rough weather in the recent Assembly elections, Togadia remained a persona non grata for the BJP.
His mysterious disappearance for a day, hospitalisation and press conference alleging that he feared for his life in "fake police encounter" at the behest of the forces that wanted to weaken the Hindutva cause can be understood in the background of his strained relations with Modi.
But the Congress seems to be placing values on even a weakened and irrelevant Togadia. In its desperate bid to reclaim lost power, the Congress under the president Rahul Gandhi is prepared to adopt all means, including supping with disgruntled Hindutva forces.
Senior Gujarat Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia met Togadia at the hospital in public glare. He said he met the VHP leader in his “personal capacity”, but expressed concern about "dangers" to Togadia’s life. Rahul Gandhi’s ally in Gujarat elections, Hardik Patel, too met him.
State & union government have to explain why VHP president,Z+ category protectee #pravintogadia got missing at midnight and found at remote place Kotarpur after 20hours In unconscious condition— Arjun Modhwadia (@arjunmodhwadia) January 15, 2018
It's our, @INCIndia culture not to treat ideological opponents as enemy or anti national like BJP does! It is unfortunate that present @BJP4India leaders have finished their own leaders like Haren Pandya, Sanjay Joshi, Y.Sinha, LKA etc - physically or politically. https://t.co/yZPiai1rVV— Arjun Modhwadia (@arjunmodhwadia) January 16, 2018
While they hit out at Modi and the Gujarat dispensation and demanded inquiry into Togadia’s allegations, it was ironical that they didn’t speak about the former doctor who has been a symbol of hate and bigoted politics. The BJP has asked the Congress to clarify its stand on whether the party supports the VHP leader.
Hardik Patel posted a flurry of tweets before and after meeting Togadia.
Z+ सिक्योरिटी होने के बावजूद भी प्रवीण तोगड़िया जी ग़ायब हो जाते हैं।सोचने की बात है कि आम आदमी का क्या हो सकता हैं।प्रवीण तोगड़िया जी ने पहेले भी कहा था की उनकी जान को ख़तरा हैं।— Hardik Patel (@HardikPatel_) January 15, 2018
बड़ा खेलप्रवीण तोगड़िया जी के लापता होने के बावजूद भी प्रदेश के गृहमंत्री चुप क्यूँ हैं ??तोगड़िया जी के सुरक्षाकर्मी को अभी तक ससपेंड क्यूँ नहीं किया ???VHP और BJP के नेता चिंतित क्यूँ नहि हैं ???अमित शाह और तोगड़िया जी कहाँ हैं ??— Hardik Patel (@HardikPatel_) January 15, 2018
BJP सरकार में VHP रो रहा हैं।देख लो अच्छें दिन !!!— Hardik Patel (@HardikPatel_) January 16, 2018
The Congress’s hobnobbing with the VHP leader is part of Rahul Gandhi’s grand strategy to take the fight to the BJP camp. Emboldened by restricting the BJP to under-100 seats in Gujarat after his temple-hopping, declaring himself a Shiv-bhakht and janeudhari, Rahul Gandhi has made his intentions clear: a brick for a brick and an eye for an eye in the run up to the 2019 elections.
Karnataka is bracing for a contest for Hindu votes between the Congress and the BJP. Later in the year, the contest is set to become even more ugly as the politics of grabbing majority votes gathers moment. One can understand Rahul Gandhi’s compulsion in wooing Hindus to regain votes the Congress has lost to the BJP. What’s difficult to stomach is that the Congress is willing to court someone like Togadia, perhaps the biggest hate monger the country has seen in the post-independence period.
The central leadership of the Congress has not commented on Modhwadia’s meeting with Togadia, which speaks of its dilemma on taking a clear- cut stand. The Congress should have explained why Modhwadia met him and why didn’t he condemn Togadia’s politics while demanding investigations into the VHP leader’s allegations.
The Congress’s occasional dalliance with the RSS has been known. Indira Gandhi’s temple visits and Rajiv Gandhi’s courting of soft-Hindutva for votes and its terrible consequences are also known. But never has the Congress dared to have truck with any bigot or Muslim baiter like Togadia or has even given the impression that it's ready to do politics with such elements.
Or has the difference between “soft” and "hardline" Hindutva been completely blurred?