Rabble-rouser Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Pravin Togadia on Tuesday created a storm with his claim that there was a plot to get him killed in an encounter by the police of Gujarat and Rajasthan, states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, setting off calls by the Congress for an inquiry into his allegation.
Togadia, who is convalescing in a hospital in Ahmedabad after having gone missing for some time on Monday and found "unconscious", told journalists that some people were trying to stifle his voice and not allowed to speak on issues like Ram temple, farmers' issues and cow slaughter.
The Ahmedabad police, however, dismissed Togadia's claim that he could have been killed in a fake encounter, saying it is nearly impossible to eliminate someone who has 'Z-plus' security.
It also disputed Togadia's claim that he had fallen unconscious, suggesting the entire episode was staged.
A VHP statement had claimed that Togadia, who had low blood sugar levels, was found lying in an unconscious state at a park in Shahibaug and was taken to Chandramani Hospital.
"Yesterday morning, I was performing pooja, when messages came that a large contingent of Rajasthan Police, along with Gujarat Police, was coming to encounter me (kill me in an encounter)," a teary eyed Togadia claimed.
"After informing my security guards, I, along with a VHP worker, took an auto-rickshaw, and went to Theltej area of the city. I called up Rajasthan chief minister (Vasundhara Raje) and home minister (Gulabchand Kataria) but they denied their police had come to Gujarat to arrest me. This raised more suspicion and I switched off my mobile phones," he said.
Togadia, a 'Z plus' category protectee, and one of the most vocal Muslim baiters in organisations linked to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, said he then contacted his lawyers in Rajasthan to get the warrant against him issued in an old case cancelled.
On being told that it cannot be done, Togadia said he decided to take a flight to Jaipur and appear before the court in Gangapur. He claimed when he was on way to the airport on an auto-rickshaw, he felt dizzy, and asked the driver to take him to a hospital. Togadia claimed he then fell unsconscious, and on regaining consciousness, found himself in a hospital.
A team of Rajasthan Police had approached their Gujarat counterparts for help to execute an arrest warrant against Togadia under section 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) of the IPC, but could not find him at his residence.
"I do not fear death, I do not fear encounter. But I had to protect myself while following the law of the land," he said.
"I have been raising my voice for Hindus. I am raising issues like Ram temple, national law to ban cow slaughter, resettlement of Kashmiri Hindus in that state, giving farmers fair price for their crops. But an attempt is being made to silence my voice," he said.
Speaking to reporters, Joint Commissioner of Police, Crime Branch, J K Bhatt said investigation revealed that Togadia was conscious -- contrary to his account that he became unconscious -- on his way to airport. He reached a spot near the airport in a car owned by his aide Ghanshyam Charandas, who then called a '108' ambulance.
"Z-plus is one of the best security cover, as you get a pilot vehicle, a bulletproof vehicle and inspector-level armed personnel having AK-47 rifles. So it is nearly impossible to get killed in an encounter. It (Togadia's apprehension) is just a figment of imagination," Bhatt said.
The Congress, a known ideological foe of the BJP-RSS, and its Gujarat ally Hardik Patel rushed to the Chandramani Hospital to inquire after Togadia's condition.
"The ruling dispensations in Rajasthan and Gujarat have engaged in fake encounters even earlier. Togadia's apprehension is not without a reason," senior Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia said.
"An internal wrestling is going on in the BJP where attempts are being made to finish off the opponents," Modhwadia said, and sought an "independent and court-monitored" probe into the allegations levelled by Togadia, who was marginalised in Gujarat's Hindutva politics after Narendra Modi became the chief minister in 2002.
Patidar quota agitation leader Hardik Patel also met Togadia separately. Patel, who backed the Congress in the recent Assembly elections in Gujarat, pointed fingers at Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah over claims made by Togadia.
"Rights of common people are being snatched away. We (he and Togadia) can have different 'mat' (ideology) but our 'mann' (heart) is one. We all know what kind of conspiracies are being hatched by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. I don't know about Hindus, but a leader of a Hindu organisation is definitely in danger now," he said.
Though the BJP did not react to Togadia's claims, veteran RSS leader M G Vaidya said only the VHP leader can reveal who was behind the alletged plot to eliminate him.
"Togadia has said he will provide evidence (to show who was behind the conspiracy). We should wait till then," Vaidya said in Nagpur.
"Only Togadia can reveal who was behind the conspiracy to kill him," Vaidya said, wondering how someone with Z-plus security can be eliminated in an encounter.
Image: VHP international working president Pravin Togadia during a press conference at Chandramani Hospital in Ahmedabad. Photograph: Santosh Hirlekar/PTI Photo