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Is the Sangh Parivar shifting gears?

Last updated on: April 22, 2014 10:39 IST

Is the Sangh Parivar shifting gears?

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Archis Mohan

BJP sources deny that the party is working on a plan to introduce a 'communal' element at a time when LS elections are entering a crucial phase. But actions speak otherwise, says Archis Mohan

In the space of 48 hours, certain inflammatory and openly anti-Muslim comments, allegedly by Vishva Hindu Parishad President Pravin Togadia and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Lok Sabha candidate from Bihar, Giriraj Singh, have given a definite communal turn to the political discourse of the 2014 general elections.

Coverage: Election 2014

And, if that was not enough, emergence of an alleged Rashtriya Sayamsevak Sangh letter imploring Hindu electors to turn out in greater numbers in Madhya Pradesh and party leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi’s statement that a quick solution to the Ayodhya Ram temple issue needs to be found have added to this discourse.

The statements have come within days of one another. BJP sources deny the party is working on a plan to introduce the ‘communal’ element at a time when the Lok Sabha elections are entering a crucial phase in the key swing states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

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Archis Mohan

On Monday, BJP distanced itself from all “offensive” comments but refused to openly criticise any. Party spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi claimed BJP did not want to talk about Togadia, as “it has no control over him”. She defended the RSS appeal and disagreed it was directed only at Hindus.

“What is wrong with asking for 100 per cent voting? Isn’t this what the Election Commission tries as well,” she asked.

Lekhi claimed Giriraj Singh’s statements were twisted by the media.

She blamed the Congress for having made many such offensive comments about the BJP leadership, but conceded Singh and many Congress leaders needed “classes” in public speaking. But the party didn’t as much as issue a rebuke to Singh, the party’s candidate from Bihar’s Nawada seat. Singh, on his part, remained unrepentant.

On Saturday, Singh had said all those opposing BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi should be sent to Pakistan. “Those opposing Modi are looking at Pakistan. In the coming days, such people will have no place in India,” he had said at an election rally.

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Image: Praveen Togadia


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Archis Mohan

Singh on Monday dismissed any possibility of retracting his statement or apologising for it. According to sources, the Election Commission has taken note of the BJP candidate’s comments and is likely to serve a notice on him.

Togadia denied having made anti-Muslim comments.

According to news reports, Togadia, along with his followers, protested outside the house of a Muslim businessman in Gujarat’s Bhavnagar, on Saturday. He asked the man to vacate the house within 48 hours and, news reports claimed, threatened his followers would forcibly take possession of the house after the deadline ended.

He also appealed to the state government to invoke the Disturbed Areas Act in Bhavnagar to prevent Muslims from purchasing property in that area. The law disallows inter-community sale of immovable property.

The reports claimed Togadia told his followers they had nothing to fear and asked them to arm themselves with stones, tyres and tomatoes.

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Archis Mohan

On Monday, even as Togadia claimed the media reports were “fabricated and written with the intention of maligning his and his organisation’s name”, he was at the centre of a political storm, with BJP’s rivals condemning the alleged communal remark.

Also, the Congress party was reported to have moved the Election Commission seeking stern action against Togadia for his “anti-national and provocative” remarks.

The BJP might have disowned Togadia but RSS spokesperson Ram Madhav backed the VHP leader. Madhav said media “fabricated” the comments attributed to Togadia and that “no swayamsevak thinks on those lines”.

BJP sources said Togadia and Modi had been old rivals.

They said Togadia, by his comments, was not only trying to embarrass Modi but attempting to usurp the vacant political space in Gujarat after Modi’s elevation to the central politics by BJP.

The Modi government had arrested VHP men when Togadia and his followers opposed the demolition of roadside temples to widen roads in Ahmedabad.

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Archis Mohan

Togadia had to relocate to Rajasthan to complain about Modi’s “excesses”. BJP leader Prakash Javadekar claimed Togadia never made such comments.

The firefighting on Togadia’s behalf was necessary, as his comments, sources in the BJP suggested, were deeply embarrassing Modi at a time when the Gujarat chief minister was trying to shed his Hindutva icon image and reinvent himself as a leader acceptable to all sections of Indian society.

The party has, however, found disowning Giriraj Singh a tougher job, particularly as some in the party believe BJP needs to talk more about its core issues to consolidate its Hindu vote bank in both Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

“Our opponents have used all kinds of strategies in the past and are using those even now to polarise votes on caste and religious lines in these states,” a party source said.

As many as 59 of Uttar Pradesh’s 80 seats and 27 of Bihar’s 40 -- that is nearly 100 seats in the two key swing states -- go to polls in the remaining four election phases on April 24 and 30 and May 7 and 12.

BJP’s Uttar Pradesh in charge Amit Shah has already stationed himself in Varanasi, where Modi is slated to file his nomination later this week. Both Modi and party president Rajnath Singh are scheduled to address most of their public rallies in this state and Bihar in the coming days.



Image: A supporter of Narendra Modi waits to leave after a rally in Gurgaon on the outskirts of New Delhi
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

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