Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) supremo Pravin Togadia today stands marginalised even in his beloved saffron camp. Things seem to have come a full circle in the last two decades, with Togadia having made a laughing stock of himself, despite airing some very serious allegations such as designs to eliminate him and his voice being suppressed on the issues of Ram Mandir, cow protection and Uniform Civil Code. Issues that have all been very dear to him.
A laughing stock
There is hardly any sympathy for him, be it from the common man on the ground or those who once treated him like the emperor of the Hindutva cause. To understand why, one need only to look at the kind of messages being circulated about him in Gujarat, something which was unimaginable when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was campaigning for his all important 2002 assembly polls, when Togadia was at his rabble-rousing best.
Today, people are joking about his 'Trishul Diksha Samarohs' (trident distribution events), wondering whether the miniature tridents can now be used for consuming 'Chinese noodles'. There are audio messages from his Hindu followers doing the rounds, where people are reminding him of his slogan ' Jis Hindu ka khoon na khaule, khoon nahin wo paani hai ' ( A Hindu's blood that does not boil over the injustice being done to him is nothing but water), and underlining how a mere threat of an arrest has led him to succumb and shed tears. These Hindu followers are now exhorting him to stand up and fight against the forces that have finished off democracy and freedom in Gujarat, as well as in the country.
Togadia is now talking about the threat to his life, his voice being strangulated, and his human rights being violated. While any civil society would stand by him on these issues, he needs to be reminded of his own conduct over the years on the very same issues. People in Gujarat have vivid memories of former chief minister Shankersinh Vaghela showing the political nerve to put him behind bars when he threatened that Gujarat would burn if he was arrested. He was released only after some sort of a political truce was reached.
Burnt by his own politics
Togadia shot into limelight after the Godhra train burning incident and the mass killings of Muslims in 2002. He complimented Narendra Modi's communally charged campaign for the 2002 assembly polls, spitting venom in the 100-plus rallies that he addressed.
Under his leadership the VHP came out with a series of programmes that were nothing but regressive. Togadia never uttered a word on the series of police encounters that followed Modi's victory in 2002 in which majority of those killed were Muslims. This was pretty much along expected lines. But despite the relations between the two starting to sour, the VHP under Togadia continued with his diabolical anti-minority campaign.
I would like to bring out a series of examples of the mindset that the VHP helped create in Gujarat, something that Modi and the Sangh Parivar have always peddled as a 'model'. I am reminded of the day when during the American bombing of Iraq all the major newspapers had carried a picture of a torso of an Iraqi child whose arms and legs had been blown off. On the very same evening, the VHP had carried out a demonstration in support of the US President George W. Bush-sanctioned invasion of Iraq, with the majority of the participants in the VHP demonstration being doctors and chartered accountants, a segment that is assumed to be among the most educated. The purpose of the event, as one of the demonstrators told me, was to let the Americans know that Gujarati Hindus supported the American action and it would help more people get those coveted American visas.
Then on the second anniversary of the Godhra train burning incident Togadia had called for a memorial meeting of those killed and the media was requested to cover the meeting. There, he was seen referring to the media, particularly the English press, as ' Bhoot and prets ' (demons and devils), even asking the VHP workers and supporters to keep them at a distance. Today, he is seeking the help of the same media to air his apprehensions.
It was under his leadership that the VHP cadres had erected gates in localities like Ghatlodia in Ahmedabad, where it was written, “ Hindu Rashtra ki Karnavati Nagri ke XXX Vistar mein Hindu Bhaiyon ka Swagat Hai ” The message broadly translates to 'Hindu brother are welcome in XXX locality of Karnavati (the name by which the saffron camp refers to Ahmedabad since the latter is Muslim sounding) in the Hindu nation'. What more glaring example of the violation of the very preamble of the Constitution could there be.
It was again under Togadia's leadership that the first protest had been organized at Income Tax circle in Ahmedabad against former deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani praising Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah during his visit to Pakistan in 2005. There were slogans raised in which Advani was called a 'Hijra' and 'Jinnah Bhakt'. He had to quit as the BJP president.
It was during this tenure that there were frequent reports of VHP organising armed training for its cadres, particularly women, in Nikol area of Ahmedabad. The outfit had even put up a banner of a marriage bureau outside its office, which was taken off when I started asking about it in regard to a news story. Probably the VHP marriage bureau was established to help 'ideal Hindu' couples tie the knot.
But his power base was fast eroding, while that of Modi, who was his his bete noire by now, was getting consolidated. I had come across a mellowed down Togadia in 2011 in Haldwani,Uttarakhand, where he was more keen on popularising Swadeshi products – right from toothpaste to soaps, along with his favourite Gau mutra.
The VHP was nowhere in the picture during the 2007, 2012, and, most importantly, the recent Gujarat elections. And then came the episode of Togadia going missing and subsequently being found. He is now facing arrests and warrants in cases that are as old as two decades. The wheel has surely come full circle. It is Togadia's own brand of politics that has come back to haunt him.