Which shade of Hindutva will you vote for in 2019?
The 'lost and found' saga of Pravin Togadia has added new colours to politics in India.
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The centre of gravity of Hindutva politics in India is shifting. And it is turning more ironic than one would have ever imagined. Earlier this week, VHP international working president Pravin Togadia shed tears while addressing a press conference in Ahmedabad, claiming that his voice is being muzzled and his life is in danger as he fears he might be killed in a "fake encounter".
What followed this stunning claim was even more spectacular - Congress veteran Arjun Modhwadia and firebrand Patidar leader Hardik Patel paid a courtesy visit to Togadia in the hospital. Meanwhile, not a single leader from the BJP either gave a statement expressing concern over a missing Togadia (he was missing for about 10 hours on January 15) or paid him a courtesy visit the two days he was in hospital.
The curious case of Togadia - going missing, then turning up conscious (according to police version) and unconscious (according to his own version) at an isolated location in Ahmedabad, and then taken to a private hospital 8km from the spot - leaves several pieces in the jigsaw scattered. Chandramani Hospital is notorious for having patients like former director general of police of Gujarat, PP Pandey, an accused in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case, who got promptly admitted here to avoid arrest, when asked by the Supreme Court to appear in the CBI court.
In the 10 hours that Togadia’s whereabouts were not clear, thousands of VHP workers poured onto arterial roads of urban areas of Gujarat, blocking traffic and creating a tense situation, shouting "Jai Shri Ram" and "Har har Mahadev".
VHP head in Gujarat, Ranchhod Bharwad, repeatedly made himself available to the media and gave statements saying Togadia is unreachable, they felt there was threat to his life by Gujarat or Rajasthan police, and urged VHP workers to keep patience and not indulge in any violence. His first such statement was before any workers had come out for "chakka jam".
Togadia enjoys Z plus security, but he had asked even his static guard to stay back when he "disappeared" (sat in an auto with a close aide from the VHP office in Ahmedabad). The case gets more curious when a day later, the Ahmedabad Crime Branch releases video of him calmly walking into the bungalow of his aide Ghanshyam Charandas. A few hours later, Kapuria’s driver called the 108 ambulance and reported that an "unidentified" person was lying "unconscious" by the roadside. Add to this the fact that the spot Togadia is "found unconscious" is a few metres from where Ishrat Jahan’s encounter had taken place! Ah… and another few metres away is also the spot where Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Kauser Bi's encounter had taken place. Sure, too many coincidences, why not.
So the facts be as it may, the big picture is why did Togadia shed tears in the same breath that he said he will continue to fight for a Ram Mandir? Though he may not have named Modi specifically, but it is no rocket science interpretation that a voice is muzzled only by one who has the privilege of power - in this case Modi. Why arch critics of Modi - Hardik and Modhwadia - promptly turn up to meet him? And, most importantly, why does Togadia agree to meet them?
The answer is simple - Togadia and VHP have been completely decimated, marginalised and now pushed to the wall by Modi in an internal power struggle within the saffron political ring. In 2002, the 59 victims of the train attack on Sabarmati Express were VHP workers returning from Ayodhya. Following this incident, the foot soldiers in the communal riots in Gujarat, were VHP workers too. All from "lower castes" and lower middle class families.
After the riots, Modi rode to power as the Hindu hriday samrat (Hindutva icon) but the families of the victims and foot soldiers were heartbroken. Further still, in the following years between 2002 and 2014, as the law took its course in the riot cases, several accused were arrested for life. Dozens of families were shattered - all affiliated with VHP/Bajrang Dal.
According to off-the-record talks in saffron and police circles in Gujarat, the perpetrators of violence were promised immunity. But when Modi realised that it was absolutely imperative for him to be seen as a fair administrator to be accepted nationally as a leader, justice must at least be seen to be done in the 2002 riots. Much heartburn followed. VHP leaders and workers were not accommodated politically or in government machinery.
Notably, despite Modi’s perceived rise in popularity, the BJP’s number of seats in Gujarat Assembly has steadily reduced. Rising disenchantment of the hardline Hindutva workforce is among the key reasons.
• 2002: BJP-127; Congress-51
•2007: BJP-117; Congress-59
• 2012: BJP-116; Congress-60
• 2017: BJP-99; Congress-77
Also brewing, meanwhile, was the tension between Togadia and Modi himself - buddies from a long time ago before BJP came to power in Gujarat. Modi has been accused of clinically cutting out old "friends" and potential competitors, as he has moved up in political career - beginning with LK Advani, Keshubhai Patel, Shankersinh Vaghela, Sanjay Joshi, Haren Pandya, Kashiram Rana, and now Pravin Togadia.
In a press conference he addressed on Wednesday (January 17), the day Modi and Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu were in Ahmedabad, Togadia claimed the "fake sex CD" of Sanjay Joshi was prepared in Ahmedabad Crime Branch and he knows who made it. His silence all these years implies he was party to it.
Cracks in VHP-Modi equation had emerged first when former VHP leader (who joined BJP and MoS home when 2002 riots happened) Gordhan Zadaphia, along with a few MLAs, had rebelled against Modi in 2007. One of his key complaints against Modi was the marginalisation of VHP. They left the BJP to launch a new party, Gujarat Parivartan Party, with Keshubhai Patel as its figurehead. The party could never garner any political significance in the state and merged with the BJP within two years. Zadaphia, who had spewed venom against Modi, re-joined the BJP in 2014. Hence, another leader was effectively neutralised and a strong message was given to the VHP. Zadaphia’s power play of loyalties is believed to have affected Togadia.
The last straw was the legal resolution to the Ram Mandir dispute in Ayodhya. As the case is heading for a conclusion, Modi and the BJP are likely to walk into the sunset basking in its glory. Not seeing any acceptance in BJP’s mainstream Hindutva politics, marginalised and decimated politically, if the Ram Mandir issue gets resolved amicably, where does it leave Togadia?
Togadia’s tears served up a great opportunity to feed the Congress’s soft-Hindutva politics. Although Hardik has said in the past that temples will not give jobs to unemployed youth, the Patidar leader's ideological leaning is still not clear. But what does appear apparent is Togadia, holding onto his hardline Hindutva ideology, is now residing in the anti-BJP-anti-Modi political space.
Nothing is permanent in politics. This new evolving Hindutva space - soft, hard, BJP's inclusive, et al - is a developing story. The latest entrant in this space, Rahul Gandhi (following his temple visits) is yet to make his thoughts clear on this.
So, which shade of Hindutva will you vote for in 2019?