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Why Modi had to get rid of Harin Pathak

March 24, 2014 18:06 IST

Very few old-style RSS workers-turned-leaders have survived Narendra Modi's political ambush in state politics.

Harin Pathak's end closes the chapter for Modi who started his post-2002 riots journey with a new mix of profit-centric development and middle class-pleasing commerce, technology-driven communication with voters, and an unspoken Hindutva that speaks only through posturings and symbols.

Rediff.com's Sheela Bhatt reveals the real reasons for the Modi-Pathak rupture.

Narendra Modi has driven the last nail into the coffin of the pre-Modi era in Gujarat's Bharatiya Janata Party that was nurtured with Hindutva ideals in Khadia, the old city area of Ahmedabad.

By stubbornly denying a Lok Sabha ticket to Harin Pathak from Ahmedabad East and Rajendrasinh Rana from Bhavnagar, Modi has ended the old style, 20th century Gujarat-based RSS chapter that brought him into public life.

Not just Pathak, even Rana's rejection is important to understand how Modi's politics works. Rana has been Modi's friend and not just a party colleague, as both were Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh workers some 30 years ago.

Rana's seat has gone to an Ayurveda doctor, Bharti Shiyal, the sitting MLA from the area.

In Modi's scheme of things, slow-moving and laidback leaders have no place, however high their credibility, whatever their contribution to the party and their connection with the RSS.

Those secularists and Congressmen who feel sympathetic towards Pathak over the last two days, painting Modi as a dictator, should take into account the fact that Modi is, in the process, also hurting the Gujarat chapter of the RSS network of a bygone generation.

Pathak is one of the chips of the old RSS block that built the Ahmedabad chapter of the BJP, the most powerful institution that made Gujarat the so-called saffron state of India.

He is a member of the original saffron brigade of rabble-rousers that created the BJP platform upon which Modi built his destiny.

During the declining fortunes of mill workers and the failure of the textiles mills of Ahmedabad, the city BJP's politics was completely dominated by Ashok Bhatt and the likes of Harin Pathak.

Bhatt and Pathak took to the streets against the Congress policy of 'appeasement of minorities' and its perceived anti-Patel and anti-upper class politics.

The Hindtuva rage brewed against the backdrop of sentiments for and against the reservation policy in education.

The political strategy of both sides made the deadly mix that ultimately led to the terrible divide of the great city of Ahmedabad along communal lines and which culminated in the Juhapura-Vejalpur divide that would take decades to bridge.

Nobody highlighted the Congress 'appeasement policy' in the minority areas of the walled city of Ahmedabad as effectively as Bhatt and Pathak in their high voltage speeches that got thunderous applause from the city's middle classes at a time when Modi was a mere RSS pracharak and Amit Shah was a small-time manufacturer and trader struggling in the city unit of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

Modi joined the Gujarat BJP in 1987. Before that its sole spokesman for outsiders was Ashok Bhatt. It was kind of given for senior political reporters in the country between 1975 and 1990 to first stop at Ashok Bhatt's home in Khadia during their Gujarat visit. Bhatt nurtured Pathak, a fellow Brahmin, in city politics.

Modi has systematically cut to size the Gujarat chapter of the VHP, the Bajrang Dal, the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and has restricted the area of influence of RSS stalwarts like Pravin Maniyar after he came to power in October 2001.

When even veterans like Keshubhai Patel and Shankersinh Vaghela have not been able to withstand Modi's manoeuvrings, Harin Pathak's survival for so long has been termed an exception.

Modi is a man following a strategy. Under his scheme of things the Hindtuva fanatics's role for the saffron brigade was over for good after the 2002 riots.

It was the ultimate irony and paradox that he successfully rode the wave of Hindutva to win the 2002 assembly election, but in the next five years he made strident Hindutva faces like Pravin Togadia and his followers irrelevant in running his government and the Gujarat BJP.

Except Amit Shah, very few old-style and conservative RSS workers-turned-leaders have survived Modi's political ambush in state politics.

Harin Pathak's end now closes the chapter for Modi who started his post-2002 riots journey with a new mix of profit-centric development and middle class-pleasing commerce, technology-driven communication with voters, and an unspoken Hindutva that speaks only through posturings and symbols.

Modi, with his economic ideas borrowed from Manmohan Singh's vision of privatisation and running a smaller government, differed in every respect from the foot soldiers of the VHP and Bajrang Dal who have a conservative social and family background.

In fact, the Modi camp made a mockery of Togadia's views soon after the 2002 riots. Under his rule, Modi put an end to all 'Hindutva agents' who can turn uncontrollable.

Surat and Rajkot-based millionaires appreciated the end of the nuisance from fundraisers of the VHP and Bajrang Dal.

Pathak had smooth relations with the VHP, Bajrang Dal and RSS old-timers in Gujarat. He was the rare proud Gujarati leader who didn't prostrate before Modi, after 2002, to win in his constituency.

He didn't need Modi's face to win with a sizeable margin because he was a member of Parliament who humbly played municipal councillor to perfection.

Since 1974, when Pathak fought the municipal election, he pampered his voters relentlessly and politically.

Pathak helps his voters's children get school admission; he attends to complaints to replace covers of gutters in lanes and bylanes; he gives character certificates to voters' sons in the hundreds; he attends more than 100 marriages round the year; makes his presence felt in an equal number of uthamnas (condolence meetings for the dead); and it is not a joke to say that Pathak many a time even goes to the police station to register a missing complaint for his voters's teenage daughters in order to fix the rowdies of the area.

Pathak is witty, a bit melodramatic in his presentation of his case, and hyperactive in his constituency. His power to mimic Modi is sheer entertainment.

It was a mix of Hindutva and municipality-level activities that worked for Pathak who won a Lok Sabha election handsomely seven times straight from the great city.

It was a surprise that in spite of the all-powerful Modi, Pathak could hold on to his turf in Gujarat so far, but like all surprises it has also ended.

Most press reports claim that the denial of election ticket to Pathak was due to his unfailing loyalty to L K Advani. This is only partly true.

There is an emerging anti-Modi clique in New Delhi within the BJP that will grow stronger if and when Modi comes to power. Modi's arch enemy, Sanjay Joshi, is already part of the group.

Most importantly, in the makeover of Modi, Pathak after the 2002 riots was suspected to be helping the 'secular lobby' restrict Modi's image as a 'regional leader who engineered riots'.

When former police officer D G Vanzara, accused of fake encounters, released a letter claiming that he was carrying out the Modi government's policy, the Modi camp suspected Pathak and other detractors to be behind it. While there was no evidence of it, it added to the distrust between Modi and Pathak.

Pathak, a staunch opponent of the Modi style of arrogance in politics, thought his party as an institution would stand by him and Modi would not be able to bulldoze his way against him. Pathak was wrong.

No leader would give up a Lok Sabha seat right under his nose to a known dissident who is definitely going to add to the might of the L K Advani-Sushma Swaraj-Sanjay Joshi group.

Pathak would have been denied a ticket in the 2009 Lok Sabha election, but Modi then succumbed to pressure. This time, Modi runs the show and the BJP's New Delhi-based leaders are unable to muster any political strength against him as Modi's star is on the ascendant.

If Paresh Rawal wins the seat, Harin Pathak will be forgotten. That is the way politics works.

In an exclusive interview with Rediff.com, Harin Pathak was angry. "Who is Paresh Rawal?" he asked. "Do you know what my voters think of film stars? My middle class voters claim that people in the film world are alcoholics! They wake up late and I don't know how and where they will take the complaints of drainage to?"

"People don't know how the Ahmedabadi mind works. They are demanding and they don't get easily lured. They only do faida no dhandho (profitable business)."

Adds Pathak, "Rawal will soon know how we have to do drudgery to help voters who have endless demands."

Since Modi denied him a ticket, Pathak claims more than 15,000 voters have expressed solidarity with him. More than 70 video cameras, he says, recorded his anguish during his press conference on Sunday, and the chat with reporters went on for some three hours.

On Sunday, Pathak says he had to serve samosas and puri-shak to thousands of supporters angry with Modi.

Pathak told Rediff.com, "Most BJP supporters are worried that the BJP is changing its gotra (DNA) by accepting turncoats and opportunists who are joining the party on the eve of elections. People in Ahmedabad regret that the Ashok-Harin era is ending."

"I had met Modi after reading media reports that he was interested in my seat. I told him I was ready to vacate my claim if he wanted to fight the election from Ahmedabad. Before the central election committee I said since I am 66 years old and many leaders much older than me are being given a ticket, I would like to stand from here if Modi doesn't want the seat."

When asked about his relationship with Modi, Pathak said cautiously, "I have sweet relations (madhur sambandh) with Modi."

The rejection of the ticket, Pathak told Rediff.com, has nothing to do with his loyalty to L K Advani.

He asked again and again, "Why induct in the party political leaders who are of no consequence in their own party?"

Inducting new people from all walks of life, Pathak felt, will dilute the BJP's identity.

"Recently, in Gujarat," he alleged, "some people have been inducted who have been a party to the killing of BJP workers."

Will Pathak stand independently from Ahmedabad and challenge Paresh Rawal as Jaswant Singh has done from Barmer in Rajasthan? He is unlikely to stand against his own party's candidate.

Harin Pathak has a deeper saffron DNA than what Narendra Modi has.

Image: Harin Pathak, right, with Narendra Modi during the Swami Vivekananda Yuva Vikas Yatra in October 2012. Photograph: Harin Pathak's Facebook page.

On Friday, Sheela said: Is Modi being unfair to Advani?

On Thursday, Sheela said: Narendra vs Narendra in Vadodara!

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Sheela Bhatt