BY ABDUL HAFIZ LAKHANI:
The grand old party Congress has almost drifted away from so secularism and adopted hard Hindutva at least in Gujarat. Two news in last week show the trend.Congress President Rahul Gandhi is all set to be a Hindu leader atleast in Gujarat as state Party will give puja kit to all Temples. And one more indication that VHP is coming closer in Togdiya episode with Congress
Building up on the momentum gained during Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s visits to over 20 temples during the Gujarat polls, the state unit of the party is planning to revive local Ram temples by forming “Sriram Suryodhay-Sandhye Aarti Committees” in 148 villages across Saurashtra.
Mooted by Leader of Opposition Paresh Dhanani, the party will distribute puja items to volunteers who agree to perform aartis 14 times a week, in temples that have been neglected or not much frequented by devotees.
“A kit of “shankh, jhalar and nagadas (conch shells, decorations and drums) will be given to temples which the committees will revive in “spirit and tradition,” said Dhanani.
“There is a Ramji Chauraha in all villages but how many of us even go to temples. If there is increased engagement among villages at a peaceful place like a temple, there will be less of unrest and depression among villagers.” Dhanani said the party has already sourced the shankh from Somnath, drums from Jasdan near Rajkot and decorations from Bhavnagar and they will soon be given to the new committees. The proposal will soon be cleared by Dhamani who says he has also discussed it with Rahul Gandhi.
The party sources say this is a well-calculated move to counter the BJP’s projection of the Congress as anti-Hindu before 2019 elections.
The BJP has already started working on the seats it lost. In Saurashtra, where BJP lost 12 seats, the administration is revisiting its agricultural policy that led to discontent among farmers, Congress, sources said, is banking on Paresh Dhanani, Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mevani to put pressure on the government in the assembly, and Hardik Patel mobilising people outside it.
There are no plans as of now for Hardik to enter the Congress officially as many feel he will do better mobilising people by being outside the system and also indulge in fund raising. “It works for both him and the Congress to have him outside the system. When you are not connected to power, people trust you easily,” a Congress leader said.
Hardik told that he will start and a two year long padhyatra starting end of the year where he will visit different villages on foot, picking up various issues from farmer distress to problems of students.
“I am anti- BJP but it is not true that I am a companion of the Congress. That association during election was only to counter BJP,” Hardik Patel said, adding that he has no plans as of now to join the Congress. His padhyatra he said will focus on schools and colleges making education unaffordable for youth. Hardik welcomed the decision of the party to make patidar leader Paresh dhanani as the leader of opposition, saying “he being a farmer’s son can understand how to set things right in Gujarat.
VHP leader Pravin Togadia’s allegations about “conspiracy to kill him to weaken the Hindutva forces” sound as startling as the Congress’s overtures to him appear to be confounding.
But pause for a moment to think and you will see that it’s neither startling nor confounding. The Togadia episode fits in well with the current politics of the BJP as well as the Congress.
The international working president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has been out in the cold for the past many years. He is of no use to BJP stalwarts Narendra Modi and Amit Shah in their home state.
Togadia had no role to play in the Gujarat Assembly elections or its politics for a long time now. Modi has been winning the state elections on his own steam since 2001. In the early years, Togadia’s rabble-rousing, Muslim-baiting rhetoric helped mobilise VHP workers in Modi’s favour, but gradually Modi cut him to size.
Notwithstanding his nuisance value and hate speeches, Togadia, perhaps, was an asset for the BJP before and during the Vajpayee era. So were Ashok Singhal, assortment of sants and sadhus and many of Sangh Parivar motor mouths.
But the Ayodhya issue gradually lost momentum after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Although it prepared the ground for the first BJP-led government at the Centre, the party realised it was running out of agendas to keep the Hindutva pot boiling.
Until Modi strode across the Gujarat landscape as he became chief minister in 2001. Soon 2002 riots happened and Modi burst onto the national scene.
After the riots, Modi had no need for Togadia and his ilk in Gujarat. He emerged at the head of the hardline Hindutva, as its most potent mascot. He was capable of packaging VHP, Bajrang Dal, LK Advani and Vajpayee in one heady mix that became brand Modi. He could do everything that Togadia was capable of, and much more, but in a subtler manner.
By Modi’s second term as chief minister, Togadia and VHP became virtually irrelevant in Gujarat. The VHP and Bajrang Dal lost traction. In 2007 Assembly elections, Modi forced Togadia to stay out of Gujarat.
In 2012 elections, a desperate Togadia tried to stage a comeback. He threw his lot with rebel BJP leader and former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, but results reaffirmed Modi’s invincibility. The people of Gujarat had bought into Modi’s cocktail of development and Hindutva.
Despite Modi facing rough weather in the recent Assembly elections, Togadia remained a persona non grata for the BJP.
His mysterious disappearance for a day, hospitalisation and press conference alleging that he feared for his life in “fake police encounter” at the behest of the forces that wanted to weaken the Hindutva cause can be understood in the background of his strained relations with Modi.
But the Congress seems to be placing values on even a weakened and irrelevant Togadia. In its desperate bid to reclaim lost power, the Congress under the president Rahul Gandhi is prepared to adopt all means, including supping with disgruntled Hindutva forces.
Senior Gujarat Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia met Togadia at the hospital in public glare. He said he met the VHP leader in his “personal capacity”, but expressed concern about “dangers” to Togadia’s life. Rahul Gandhi’s ally in Gujarat elections, Hardik Patel, too met him.
While they hit out at Modi and the Gujarat dispensation and demanded inquiry into Togadia’s allegations, it was ironical that they didn’t speak about the former doctor who has been a symbol of hate and bigoted politics. The BJP has asked the Congress to clarify its stand on whether the party supports the VHP leader.
Hardik Patel posted a flurry of tweets before and after meeting Togadia.
The Congress’s hobnobbing with the VHP leader is part of Rahul Gandhi’s grand strategy to take the fight to the BJP camp. Emboldened by restricting the BJP to under-100 seats in Gujarat after his temple-hopping, declaring himself a Shiv-bhakht and janeudhari, Rahul Gandhi has made his intentions clear: a brick for a brick and an eye for an eye in the run up to the 2019 elections.
Karnataka is bracing for a contest for Hindu votes between the Congress and the BJP. Later in the year, the contest is set to become even more ugly as the politics of grabbing majority votes gathers moment. One can understand Rahul Gandhi’s compulsion in wooing Hindus to regain votes the Congress has lost to the BJP. What’s difficult to stomach is that the Congress is willing to court someone like Togadia, perhaps the biggest hate monger the country has seen in the post-independence period.
The central leadership of the Congress has not commented on Modhwadia’s meeting with Togadia, which speaks of its dilemma on taking a clear- cut stand. The Congress should have explained why Modhwadia met him and why didn’t he condemn Togadia’s politics while demanding investigations into the VHP leader’s allegations.
The Congress’s occasional dalliance with the RSS has been known. Indira Gandhi’s temple visits and Rajiv Gandhi’s courting of soft-Hindutva for votes and its terrible consequences are also known. But never has the Congress dared to have truck with any bigot or Muslim baiter like Togadia or has even given the impression that it’s ready to do politics with such elements.
With some input from TOI