I remember quite distinctly Pravin Togadia’s sensational visit to Pune nearly 14 or 15 years ago. It was a major event announcing the arrival of a “great Hindu icon”, the street which was to host his lecture was saffron all over. Every word he uttered had hatred for Muslims in it.
I had heard his speeches in Gujarat during the 2002 election campaign, after the bloody mayhem that embarrassed the then-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Togadia were hugely popular political stars and drew huge crowds. They brutally attacked Pakistan’s General Pervez Musharraf, made sarcastic remarks against Vajpayee for inviting such Pakistani villains to India, vowed to liberate Kashmir by military action, and condemned negotiations with the “terrorist” neighbour. In the same vein, they would attack Sonia Gandhi, highlighting her foreign and Christian roots.
The people in the rally applauded them with frenzy, and loudly echoed the violence that came reverberating through the microphone. Listening to their frightening eloquence, I would remember the Charlie Chaplin classic, The Great Dictator, in which similar loud ranting against the Jews generates hate in the crowd. It was scary to be at their meeting; I was not Muslim, and yet I felt that the whole crowd could become a lynch mob.
Vajpayee was almost always upset with Modi, and after 2002, he had reminded the chief minister to observe ‘Raj Dharma’. But for Lal Krishna Advani’s intervention, Modi would have had to resign. However, the team jointly led by Modi and Togadia had mesmerised the Gujarati masses so much that it was difficult to counter their campaign.
The TV channels, NDTV in particular, showed to the world the frenzied mobs and mindless violence. Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai became targets of the Modi establishment. They have not been forgiven even now. It is perhaps at that time Modi realised and decided that he must have dedicated TV channels to promote his politics and propaganda. He succeeded in getting embedded TV crews a decade later.
There was similar mass frenzy, exactly a decade before, in 1992 in Ayodhya, when the Babri Masjid was demolished. But thankfully, there was no embedded TV media showing the sword- and trishul-carrying karsevaks on their warpath. The images of the saffron brigade climbing to the top of the masjid and desecrating it (which were seen later on the BBC) could have been explosive. Those live images could have led to a Partition-like holocaust across the country. That is the power of the audio-visual media. Indeed, with social media joining the frenzy, they have become the weapons of mass destruction.
But as it happens in all organisations, political, corporate or mafia, the desire for power, greed, personal jealousies and ambitions create vicious rifts. Like in the film Mackenna’s Gold, the gang that comes together for a “common mission” of conquering a gold mountain ends up killing each other. Or, as a critic had observed about Mario Puzo’s ‘The Godfather’, “it is not a story of crime or mafia, but of power struggle”. The violence is in-built in that bloody competition.
Pravin Togadia alleged in a press conference last week that he feared the police were out to encounter-kill him. In tears and visibly terrified, he even hinted at Modi. Just a few days before, he was once again elected the international working president of the Vishva Hindu Parishad, defeating a candidate supposedly sponsored by the Modi lobby, and that this lobby was taking revenge by plotting to kill him.
It is not as if Togadia’s allegations will lead to a revolt in the VHP or in the Sangh Parivar. Togadia’s strident attack on the Modi regime is a reflection of the growing tension within the Parivar. But we must also take cognisance of the fact that Togadia has a large and loyal following, mainly in the Patel lobby. No wonder Hardik Patel promptly met him.
During the Gujarat election campaign in December, it had become obvious to journalists there that a sizeable section in the RSS and VHP was either hostile to Modi or was actively working against the party. There was considerable antipathy towards party president Amit Shah and his arrogant style of functioning. BJP’s “humiliating victory” in Gujarat was not only because of the recharged Congress under the reinvented Rahul Gandhi. It was also because of the widespread disenchantment within the BJP, not merely against demonetisation and GST, but the overall autocracy of the Modi-Shah regime.
The internecine conflict has come out in open now. Both the factions seem to have approached Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat to intervene. Bhagwat had advised Togadia to not go public about his differences with Modi. But Togadia broke the discipline.
The Lok Sabha elections, whenever they are held, will further intensify the internal conflict. Opinion polls and surveys being carried out to reinforce the image that Modi’s charisma is in fact deepening and he would win over 350 seats in the Lok Sabha could prove to be a big delusion. And delusions often become nemeses.