The man who played a major role in Narendra Modi’s success in Gujarat is now proving to be an embarrassment for the BJP.
The firebrand VHP propagandist, Praveen Togadia, doesn’t seem to have realised that the BJP uses vitriol as a tactical weapon, to be used as and when the occasion demands, and not all the time.
While the party must have been elated by his abuses directed at Sonia Gandhi and her party during the Gujarat campaign, it now obviously wants him to pipe down, especially when the Vajpayee government has taken up the Ayodhya issue with the Supreme Court. However, as a ‘young and dynamic’ person — as one of Mr Togadia’s colleagues in the VHP has indulgently described him — the combative Praveenbhai has been ploughing his own furrow with the same fervour he had shown in Gujarat.
His latest is a demand for the handing over of the disputed site in Ayodhya to his organisation. In addition, he has voiced his own line on Iraq by seeing the war there in terms of a clash of civilisations in which India has to be, in his view, on the side of the West.
Unfortunately, both the BJP and the VHP have been discomfited by such ‘dynamism’. The BJP’s fear is that its attempt to secure the lifting of the judicial stay on the holding of religious ceremonies on the undisputed portion of the land near the makeshift temple will run into trouble by Mr Togadia’s indiscretions. The VHP is displeased at the overtness of the anti-Muslim sentiments which Mr Togadia has expressed with reference to Iraq. So much so that none other than Giriraj Kishore has had to say, “we are not anti-Muslim”!
In addition to policy perceptions, there may also be an element of personal rivalry in the present airing of differences. Perhaps the importance which Mr Togadia has acquired via his controversial statements is not being appreciated by others inside the outfit. But the central point is that as long as the BJP uses the VHP to serve its electoral purpose, it has to be prepared for the latter’s extremism to spread to other areas. A fire, once lit, cannot always be controlled.