November 18, 2015

Radhika Ramaseshan's note on the Vishwa Hindu Parishad patriarch Ashok Singhal

Radhika Ramaseshan note on Facebook
[18 November 2015]

“The demise of Ashok Singhalji is a deep personal loss. He was an institution in himself, whose life was centered around serving the nation. I was always fortunate to receive Ashokji’s blessings and guidance.”
This was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s condolence message for Ashok Singhal, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad patriarch, who passed away today at 2.24 pm in Gurgaon’s Medanta Medicity Hospital following cardio-vascular failure and septicemia at the age of 89.
Those familiar with Modi’s long association with Singhal instantly figured out that this was not a quotidian tweet, posted on its twitter wall to acknowledge a death in the RSS “parivar”. It would have come from the heart.
Singhal’s death has left Modi without a solid support pillar in the saffron fraternity. It could not have come at a more inopportune time for Modi who faces his next big challenge in the “parivar” when it was time for his closest political ally, Amit Shah to demit office as the BJP president in January 2016.
A large section of the BJP, backed by a few top Sangh officials, want Shah to be replaced with someone imbued with the potential to challenge the near hegemonic rule the Shah-Modi duo brought in the party. Obviously, Modi will not countenance the thought because to him, Shah’s the ideal person to helm the party until the next Lok Sabha polls.
Although Singhal-- designated as a “Patron” of the VHP after he ceased being the working president in 2011—was not on the RSS’s central executive council, its top command structure, Sangh sources said till the last he “inspired” more “awe and fear” in the “pracharaks” (whole-timers) and “swayamsevaks” (volunteers) than even the “sarsanghachalak”, Mohanrao Bhagwat. “He did not need to hold a formal office,” a “pracharak” said.
So, when a critical and complex decision concerning a Sangh affiliate, including the BJP awaited resolution, Singhal’s word counted. “He was determined to stand by Modi. He ensured that the VHP leaders would not speak off-the-cuff or make embarrassing statements. That’s why you have not heard much of this from those like Pravin Togadia who tend to shoot their mouths off,” a VHP source claimed.
Singhal apparently had strong likes and dislikes. Modi was one of his “strong likes”.
Modi himself may not care to recall this nugget. But since the VHP was on the ascendant since 1984—when Singhal and his RSS colleague, Moreshwar (“Morapant”) Pingle, sketched a timeline for a “movement” to demand the construction of a Ram temple on the site that housed the Babri mosque in Ayodhya and subsequently filled in the details—Modi had latched on to it for a while with Uma Bharti. Both represented the VHP in one of the first big conferences organized by the Indian diaspora in the US.
“Singhalji always campaigned for Modi in the Gujarat elections. He promptly scotched any suggestion from within the ‘parivar’ on replacing Modi (as the Gujarat chief minister),” a former BJP general secretary recalled.
When Modi and Togadia, friends and colleagues in Gujarat, fell out later after Modi’s rise in the state, Singhal batted for the Prime Minister. Indeed, he was one of the first endorsers of the Modi-for-Prime Minister campaign and publicly rooted for him at the “Kumbh Mela” of 2012 in Allahabad before a congregation of the Hindu clergy.
On his part, Modi passed the first litmus test set by the VHP in 2002 shortly after he was appointed as the chief minister. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then the Prime Minister of the NDA coalition, failed it.
The subject was Ayodhya.
The VHP adopted a confrontationist path, determined to lay the foundation stones for the gateway to the Ram temple in March 2002 after the Godhra carnage and the ensuing violence against Gujarat’s Muslims that went on for a month. Such an act would amount to a violation of a court order, disallowing construction in the Ayodhya complex.
Vajpayee and LK Advani failed to rein in Singhal and Togadia. The RSS had to marshall its human resource skills to coax them to drop their plans. “But Vajpayee and to an extent Advani became persona non grata for the VHP. Modi won over their hearts and even earned the moniker, ‘Hindu hriday ka samrat’ (monarch of the Hindu heart) because of what happened in Gujarat,” a VHP insider said.
Singhal—who the RSS had “loaned” to the VHP in 1980—was credited with giving a “political” face to Hindutva. Hindutva was an abstraction until he breathed life into the concept in the shape of the Ayodhya “movement”.
His ideas yielded rich electoral dividends to the BJP since 1989, when the party made its first big impact in national politics. Singhal was so obsessive about the temple agenda that he forsook singing, his other passion. He was a classical Hindustani vocalist who was trained by Pandit Omkarnath Thakur.
Born in Uttar Pradesh’s Atrauli to a bureaucrat, who settled in Allahabad, Singhal and his seven siblings gave away the vast properties the family owned in the city to a Vedic Vidyalaya and other institutions imparting Hindu religious lessons.
Singhal’s death is bound to unsettle the BJP or more precisely, Modi’s equation with the VHP.
Observers see Togadia, presently the International Working President, becoming stronger in the coming days now that Singhal’s shadow has receded. The VHP’s present head, G Raghava Reddy, Hyderabad’s “confectioner king”, is regarded more as a funder than an ideologue or an organizer or both.