How Modi cut Togadia down to size in Gujarat

It’s difficult to decipher what exactly Pravin Togadia, the International Working President of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), meant by his bombastic claim that the VHP will declare Gujarat a “Hindu state” by 2015. What difference can a so-called religious-cultural group’s unconstitutional declaration of any state as Hindu make to statecraft, society, polity or business?

A section of VHP functionaries are at a loss to explain what prompted Togadia to make this claim. Senior Gujarat BJP leaders have already expressed disdain over this rhetoric, which has failed to arouse any passion even among Sangh Parivar believers and has instead only increased anxieties in the state's Muslim community.

More than anyone else, Togadia himself should be acutely aware of his own and the VHP’s near complete irrelevance in Gujarat today. This has been reflected during the last two assembly elections that Narendra Modi won. The VHP’s cadre base has shrunk and Togadia is struggling hard to stay afloat in the state.

Representational image

Representational image

What he now claims would be a Herculean task for him to accomplish - to develop a VHP presence in all 18,000 villages of Gujarat over the next two years. But then, nobody is going to verify his claims. Togadia's brand of extreme right-wing politics has been negated by the people at large in the state he belongs to, and even within the Sangh Parivar, rational leaders see him more as baggage than anything else.

Modi’s stated concept of secularism, “India First”, comes in direct conflict with Togadia’s Hindutva fancies. But that does not mean Togadia can't cause damage. To make his Hindu state claims, Togadia chose a venue near Ahmedabad in the vicinity of Modi’s home constituency, a move that could embarrass Modi and raise fresh questions on how to deal with Hindu hardliners.

In the 2012 assembly elections, those who travelled across Gujarat noted that a substantial segment of the VHP had pitted itself against Narendra Modi and the BJP. Over three months, the outfit's leaders and workers sweated it out to damage Modi and boost whatever negligible prospects Keshubhai Patel and Gordhan Zadaphia’s Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) had against the BJP strongman. They knew that it was not possible for the Congress and the GPP to defeat Modi, so the purpose was to portray Modi as leading a divided Parivar in Gujarat and somehow reduce his victory margin in terms of seats won. The idea was to scuttle his national ambitions.

To the VHP’s dismay however, the outfit's campaign against Modi ended up helping him correct his image outside Gujarat and even with some segments of the minorities. In the elections, it won him support from a large number of people for whom good governance and the availability of basic amenities was far more important than the worn out rhetoric of the VHP.

Zadaphia and his whole team lost the elections. Keshubhai Patel could win his seat but in the next elections there may be no GPP. Its symbol, the cricket bat, has been frozen because the party, even with the vociferous support of the VHP, did not get the required percentage of votes in the state assembly to be recognised as a regional party.

The slow, but visible, tilt of of some segments of Muslims in Gujarat towards Modi coincides with marginalisation of the VHP in the state. In the run-up to the assembly elections, one could sense that the complete banishment of the rowdy elements of the VHP-Bajrang Dal to the fringes came as a huge relief to the Muslim community. Modi may have ensured this for his own convenience, but he took the bull by the horns and won. His win attracted the ire of sections within the Sangh Parivar, but its default beneficiaries were people from the minority community.

A number of VHP activists figured in around 200 pronounced convictions in post-Godhra riot cases. More importantly, former minister Maya Kodnani’s conviction gave people a feeling that justice finally prevailed, even if it may not have brought complete closure to those directly affected. This was precisely the reason why Togadia kept making adverse references to Modi, albeit without naming him, on the sidelines of the Kumbh conclave of the VHP in Allahabad.

Togadia's conflict with Modi is both political and personal. In the 2007 assembly election, Togadia was forced to stay out of Gujarat, and the VHP's firebrand is perturbed by the loss of clout in his own state. But Modi can't afford to let Togadia reclaim lost ground.

Despite his image as a hardliner, Modi has never flaunted his Hindutva credentials - in fact, it is inbuilt in his persona. But after the 2002 elections, he has consciously cultivated the image of a strong development-oriented administrator. The rise of Togadia in the pre-2002 period was Modi's loss. But after 2002, it has been the reverse.

Modi’s stakes are much higher now. Togadia's claims on creating a Hindu state in Gujarat is intended to damage Modi. That he made the claim in the presence of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat should worry Modi.

Updated Date: Apr 02, 2013 11:21 AM

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