Pravin Togadia lost & found: Are Modi & RSS trying to cut VHP to size?
The lost and found drama involving the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Pravin Togadia and his tearful submissions before the media on Tuesday indicates that all is not well in the saffron camp. Several observers and sources reveal that the attempts started to marginalise the VHP leadership along with the Bajrang Dal within the Sangh Parivar are now being put in top gear.
There are a series of factors responsible for this including the game of one-upmanship within the Sangh Parivar and also the larger design of having a pan India sway by its political wing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The question being debated in the Hindutva camp right now is whether there are attempts being made to cut the VHP and Bajrang Dal to size and with what goal in mind?
According to reports, Togadia after going missing for a brief while on Monday told the media on Tuesday that unspecified people are attempting to muzzle him and not let him speak on issues like the Ram temple, welfare schemes for farmers and the law on cow slaughter. He has also pointed at attempts to frame him in fake cases and has aired apprehensions that he might be liquidated.
"I am being targeted for a decades-old case. There is an attempt to suppress my voice. Rajasthan police team came to arrest me. Someone told me plan was being made to kill me in an encounter," alleged a tearful Togadia at a press briefing convened by him.
The International Working President of the VHP was reportedly found in an unconscious state and admitted to a hospital in Shahibaug area of Ahmedabad on Monday evening after the VHP had reported him missing. Reports quote the Ahmedabad Crime Branch officials saying that his sugar levels had dipped and he had been brought to the Chandramani Hospital in an unconscious state by 108 emergency service. The person who contacted the emergency service has not been disclosed.
The event of Togadia going missing was marked by protests by VHP cadres across Gujarat. Media reports quoting Crime Branch officials said that Togadia had arrived at 1 am at VHP office in Paldi with his security staff. He relieved his Z-plus security staff and instructed them to return by 2.30 pm. At around 10.30 am, Togadia left for an undisclosed location in an autorickshaw along with a VHP worker. He told his security guard that he was going out for personal work and would return by 2 pm. Thereafter, Togadia did not return to the VHP office and was later found unconscious and admitted to Chandramani Hospital.
Reports say that Rajasthan police had gone to Ahmedabad seeking his arrest in a 10- year-old case registered by the Ashok Gehlot government pertaining to the killing of three people in a programme where Togadia had been present.
This is the second instance of law catching up with Togadia in the last fortnight. A non-bailable warrant against Togadia was canceled on January 5 after his appearance before the Ahmedabad Metropolitan Court in a 21-year-old case popularly known as ‘Dhoti kand’ (dhoti episode). The non-bailable warrants were issued against Togadia and 38 others, including BJP MLA Babubhai Patel, for their role in the 20 May 1996 incident when the VHP and Bajrang Dal activists had stripped BJP minister Atmaram Patel of his dhoti minutes after former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had addressed his first rally after assuming office.
Atmaram Patel had been disrobed because he had joined the previous year’s rebellion led by Shankersinh Vaghela who had flown 60 legislators to a tourist resort in Khajuraho that had led to the fall of the first BJP government in Gujarat led by Keshubhai Patel.
At present there is a widespread perception among the VHP sympathisers that the RSS and the BJP are trying to cut the VHP to size, a process that had been started more than a decade ago when Narendra Modi had come up as the poster boy of Hindutva.
The first strains between the VHP and the BJP had come to fore when the premises of a top VHP functionary were raided by tax officials in 2005. Then the VHP kept aloof in the run-up to the 2007 assembly polls whereas in 2002 it was Togadia who had played a major role in fueling the electoral juggernaut of Modi with his highly provocative speeches. This reporter was shocked to see the VHP top brass preparing for an International Human Rights Day programme instead of campaigning for the BJP with the polling merely three days ahead.
Sources further revealed that the next episode in the souring of the relations between the two came in 2008 when VHP leader Ashwin Patel who has involved in supporting the families of Dalits and tribals accused in cases of 2002 anti-Muslim carnage was accused of sending “anti-national” SMSes and was held for sedition. The alienation continued to grow and during the recent Assembly polls the VHP and the Bajrang Dal cadres kept aloof from the electoral campaign.
VHP vs BJP
Sources say that there were two reasons for this. “The first was that majority of the VHP and Bajrang Dal cadres are Patidars who had deserted the BJP on the issue of reservation in jobs and educational institutions. Secondly, the cadres of these two outfits are annoyed that the Ram Temple is being hijacked by the BJP and is being handed over to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar keeping in mind the forthcoming polls in the southern state of Karnataka,” says a source. He pointed that the statements on Ram Mandir coming from Sri Sri just when campaign to Gujarat polls was picking up is a pointer towards this.
Sources further disclosed that the funding to the VHP has been strangulated over the last few years and the donors who are now putting in money for the programmes of the VHP are doing so anonymously.
“The flagship programme of the VHP cadres in Gujarat is the circulation of the annual Panchang among the populace every year on the occasion of Diwali. The printing does not cost more than Rs 25,000. But can you imagine that this time the VHP was struggling to get a sponsor for printing this small booklet? The donors who came forward asked the organisation not to print their names on the Panchang anywhere. The same is the case with the trust run Dhanvantri Hospital started by Togadia after he had sold off his own private hospital to serve the poor patients where people are examined by a doctor with an MD degree for just Rs 20. Even this hospital is facing a resource crunch now,” said a source based in Ahmedabad.
“The BJP is trying to send across the message that it has no use of VHP and Bajrang Dal anymore and it can win even crucial elections like the recent Assembly polls without their support. They are now being presented as a liability with their insistence on the construction of Ram Temple in Ayodhya. The internal thought process in the RSS is also on the similar lines as it now sees these two organisations responsible for alienation of moderate Hindus from the Sangh Parivar because of their extreme agenda. The Togadia episode is a fallout of these processes,” said an observer based in Ahmedabad.
Observers are also pointing at the events being organised by unknown Hindutva organisations in Gujarat to woo the Hindus without taking the VHP or the Bajrang Dal in the loop. One such programme being pointed at is the recently held 'Hindu Adhyatmik Ane Sewa Melo - 2018' (Hindu spiritual and service fair) from January 5 to 8 ) PIX ATTACHED) that was organised by Hindu Spiritual and Service Foundation (HSSF). “If this is not cutting the VHP to site then what is it?” pointed a source.
The continuing friction between the BJP and the VHP can also be gauged from the fact that when Togadia had arrived at the court on January 5 with hundreds of VHP and Bajrang Dal activists, the slogans being shouted were “Jai Sri Ram” and the placards that were displayed read “Hindu chalaa jail mein, Saheb tere raj mein” (Hindu goes to jail in your rule, Saheb). The reference Saheb in Gujarat is made in context of Modi.
There is another point of view to the entire Togadia episode with skeptics saying that the script to the drama has been penned by the Sangh Parivar to test political waters ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Whatever the cause, the political drama within the saffron camp is expected to continue in the days to come.