scroll.n 28 March 2017
As the BJP starts preparations for the Gujarat polls, is Pravin Togadia the new Yogi Adityanath?
A day after communal clashes in the state, the VHP leader spoke of Hindu grievances and Muslim appeasement.
As the BJP starts preparations for the Gujarat polls, is Pravin Togadia the new Yogi Adityanath?
Commentators reprimanding liberals for criticising Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath are advised to release the hot air of political correctness after examining what happened in Gujarat this past week.
Though the Assembly elections in that state are still nine months away, the Sangh Parivar has begun preparing for it as only it can – by communalising the electorate and bringing out Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Pravin Togadia, arguably the most venomous of all rabble-rousers, to spin yarns of Hindu grievances and Muslim appeasement.
Indeed, Togadia is to Gujarat what Adityanath had been to Uttar Pradesh until his newfound status of chief minister had the commentariat forget his past and discover in him virtues that even he might not have thought he possessed. To ensure the commentariat class doesn’t commit the same mistake of lavishing praise on Togadia, as it is now doing on Adityanath, it is imperative to monitor Gujarat’s journey to the elections till the very end.
This journey, it will be remembered, began with two people dying and 10 being injured, five of them critically, when a scuffle between a Class 10 Hindu boy and his Muslim classmate on Saturday snowballed into a communal clash in Vadavali village of Gujarat’s Patan district. You might think the eruption was spontaneous, as most riots are said to be but which political scientist Paul Brass calls a myth spawned to rationalise planned killings. In his magisterial book The Production of Hindu-Muslim Violence in Contemporary India, Brass showed that India has an Institutionalised Riot System, which scripts and produces riots, with actors having clearly assigned roles in the same manner a theatrical production has. Studying riots that battered Aligarh over decades, Brass empirically proved that riots enable political parties to communalise and polarise the electorate before every election. They appear spontaneous only because seasoned actors succeed in portraying it thus.
It is possible to argue that Patan in Gujarat isn’t Aligarh, and the riots there were indeed spontaneous. It is also likely a coincidence that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad hosted a Virat Hindu Sammelan on Sunday, a day after the Patan rioting. But that Togadia chose the Sammelan to articulate Hindutva’s pet peeves and falsehoods was certainly not a coincidence.
Togadia said he wanted the government to bear the education expenses of Hindus as it did for religious minorities. He went on to claim that had the government been subsidising Hindu students, Patidar (or Patel) and Thakor youth wouldn’t have been at loggerheads over reservations in education and government jobs.
This is a brazen lie. The Union government has several schemes to fund students of Other Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, as it has for Muslims. These include scholarships, coaching for competitive examinations, and loans on generous terms for pursuing higher studies at home and abroad.
Brought up on a staple of not mixing news with views, no journalist thought it fit to call out Togadia’s lies. Nor will the readers of media stories go online to check the veracity of his claims.
The irrepressible Togadia deployed another canard. He said the government had imposed an education cess to educate “95 lakh Muslims”. With the feigned passion of the aggrieved, he asked, “Then why not [the same benefit] for the youths of Rajput, Koli Thakor, the Luhar [blacksmiths] and Suthar [carpenter] communities?”
The truth is that the education cess is not for the minority community, but is a fund specially created to bankroll initiatives such as the hugely successful Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan for universal elementary education. But this fact did not restrain Togadia from demanding, “If you are paying the fees of 95 lakh Muslims, then pay for six crore Hindus.” Just in case the logic underlying his demand was missed, he clarified, “If Muslims could be helped with the money collected from taxes paid by Hindus, why not Patels, Thakores and Koli [communities].”
BJP’s caste concerns
The communities Togadia named are either groups demanding reservation or already categorised as Other Backward Classes for affirmative action. Worryingly for the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Patels – a caste that has stood rock-like behind the party for nearly three decades – have been clamouring for reservation, not always without flexing muscles and indulging in violence.
In response, the Other Backward Classes want to prevent the relatively prosperous Patels from being clubbed with them, fearing their relatively better education and economic status would enable them to corner a large slice of the reservation cake, which in itself has become smaller because the growth in government jobs has slowed.
It is to paper over caste antagonisms that Togadia has resurrected the bogey of Muslim appeasement, in the hope of uniting the Patels and Other Backward Classes on an anti-Muslim plank. But these aren’t just two caste groups alienated from the ruling BJP of Gujarat.
Dalits, too, have been simmering against discrimination and oppression, dramatically brought to the fore last year following the flogging of their caste brethren for skinning a dead cow in the state’s Una town. They dumped animal carcasses at government offices and, along with Muslims, petitioned district authorities to rein in the cow protection vigilantes. They also took out a 10-day protest march from Ahmedabad to Una in August.
A society in ferment can be incited to direct its wrath against a common enemy, which in the Sangh Parivar’s consciousness is always the Muslim. So Togadia spoke of the subsidy given to Muslims – not all, it must be remembered – who go on Hajj every year. He didn’t mention the expenses incurred on organising teerths (pilgrimages) and kumbh melas for Hindus.
Nor would you, obviously, expect Togadia to mention that this subsidy for Muslims has been continued despite several Muslim clerics and leaders demanding it be abolished as it violates the Islamic injunction that Hajj should be performed after people have met all their obligations and are still in a position to finance their pilgrimage.
After breathlessly, and audaciously, spinning yarns about Muslim appeasement, Togadia took to demanding a uniform family policy that allows every man to have “one wife and two children to control population growth of the Muslims”. His logic was impeccable: “A lot of taxpayers’ money goes into serving large families that have no control over their numbers.” And just in case his audience didn’t get his insinuation, he reminded them that the majority of taxpayers in India are Hindus.
Then came the familiar cry for building a Ram temple in Ayodhya, articulated in language that sounded menacing.
Togadia’s rhetoric, in its shrillness and falsehoods, echoes that of Adityanath before his unseemly past was whitewashed as soon as he became chief minister. The commentariat’s craven plea of giving Adityanath a chance might have inspired the Sangh to attempt a Togadia redux.
So, who is behind the idea of springing Togadia on us – Prime Minister Narendra Modi or the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or both?
The hand behind Togadia
Television anchor Rajdeep Sardesai, in his book 2014: The Election that Changed India, famously gave the benefit of the doubt to Narendra Modi for his failure as chief minister to control the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat. He suggested that Modi was too new to the administration to control the hotheads in the Sangh Parivar.
Sardesai wrote, “What is probably true is that in February 2002, the real boss of Gujarat was not Modi but the VHP general secretary Praveen Togadia. If there was a ringmaster for the 2002 riots it was Togadia…”
In later years, though, Sardesai credited Modi for successfully reining in Togadia, even managing to “virtually isolate him, but in the bloody days of 2002, he failed to do so. Whether that was deliberate or otherwise is a question only he [Modi] can answer, but the political benefits of a consolidated Hindu vote bank were obvious”.
A consolidated Hindu vote bank is once again needed in Gujarat, to paper over caste contradictions to win the Assembly elections later this year. As in the past so in the present, we will never have a clue as to who brought Togadia out from oblivion. What we can certainly tell is that Togadia’s speech at the Sammelan is typical of how the Sangh prepares its footsoldiers for the battle of the ballot.
Sangh stamp of politics
Thus, in July 2014, before Uttar Pradesh was to have a clutch of Assembly by-elections, love jihad (the apparent targeting by Muslim men of non-Muslim women) became the BJP’s signature tune. The melody of ghar wapsi (the conversion of non-Hindus back to Hinduism) was mixed with it as Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Delhi went to polls one after another around the same period (2014-’15).
After a lull of a few months, the anti-cow slaughter vigilantes began to grab headlines through their beating of drivers caught ferrying cattle. It was an unmistakable signal from the Sangh that it had begun preparing for the 2016 Assembly elections in Bihar, a state with a long history of the cow-protection movement dating back to the late 19th century. It was around then that Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched in Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri town, near Delhi, on the suspicion that he had consumed and stocked beef. The furious debates on television followed and many writers returned their awards in protest.
Sure, there were other narratives as well – development for instance.
Yet, it is a testament to the shiny lure of anti-Muslim rhetoric that no less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi stoked the fears of the Other Backward Classes through his claims that a victory for the Grand Alliance – a combination of the Janata Dal (United), Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress – in Bihar would have its government grant reservations to Muslims from the quota for the Other Backward Classes. That was a constitutional impossibility, but then everything is fair in war, even those fought through the electronic voting machine.
Uttar Pradesh to Gujarat
Uttar Pradesh has always been more communally polarised than any other state, largely because it was here that the battle for Partition was fought and the site of the Babri Masjid is located. In the months before the Assembly polls (which concluded earlier this month) and the demonetisation policy (in November) were announced, anti-cow slaughter vigilantes returned after a spell of RR (rest and recuperation) with tremendous zeal and fury. This was followed by the Sangh Parivar spinning the yarn of Hindu migration from villages and towns of Uttar Pradesh under pressure of the Muslim underworld.
In the proscenium of Uttar Pradesh’s electoral theatre, Adityanath was always there to fill in the interludes separating one speaker from another who spoke of anti-corruption measures and development and India’s march to greatness. But such speakers presumably too forgot their script and began to harp on shamshan and qabristan (crematorium and graveyard) and coined the acronym Kasab (after the name of the 2011 Mumbai terror attack convict Ajmal Kasab) to signify the Congress (Ka), Samajwadi Party (Sa) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (B).
From this perspective, the riots in Patan and the Virat Hindu Sammelan have heralded the BJP’s preparation for the Gujarat Assembly polls. It is only befitting that Togadia should blow the bugle. The Sangh Parivar has chosen him because the commentariat, located at various points of India’s ideological spectrum, has been so accommodating of Adityanath. They shouldn’t be surprised if Togadia becomes Gujarat’s Adityanath, but, hopefully, we won’t be asked to give him a chance too.
Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist in Delhi. His novel, The Hour Before Dawn, has as its backdrop the demolition of the Babri Masjid.