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Pravin Togadia says he’ll quit VHP after his nominee loses presidential poll

Former Himachal Pradesh governor VS Kokje defeated Togadia’s aide Raghava Reddy by bagging 131 votes to 60.

india Updated: Apr 14, 2018 23:17 IST
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Pravin Togadia,VHP,Vishwa Hindu Parishad
Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Pravin Togadia issued a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the press conference in New Delhi on March 14, 2018.(Raj K Raj/HT File Photo)

In a setback to its best-known leader Praveen Togadia, a vocal critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) on Saturday elected former Himachal Pradesh governor V S Kokje as the international president of the hardline organisation.

While Togadia’s associate and incumbent international president Raghava Reddy polled 60 votes, Kokje walked away with 131 votes in the first election ever to the post.

An upset Togadia announced his departure from the VHP and said he will go on an indefinite hunger strike in Ahmedabad on Tuesday to press his demand for the passage of a law in Parliament for the construction of a Ram Temple in Ayodhya.

VHP, like the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Togadia has shared an uneasy relationship with Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, and the outcome of the election is a setback to him and his followers.

Soon after the election, the central board of trustees of the VHP approved the appointments of Alok Kumar as VHP’s working president, Ashok Rao Chowgule as working president (external), Milind Parande as secretary general, Vinayak Rao Deshpande as organizational general secretary, Champat Rai as a vice-president and Venkata Koteswara Rao as joint general secretary.

Saturday’s election that took place in Gurgaon was necessitated by members failing to reach consensus on who should head the VHP, which has been at the forefront of the Ayodhya Ram Temple movement and more recently spearheaded a campaign against inter-faith marriages.

A meeting of the VHP’s executive board and trustees committee, whose members form the electorate, could not agree at a December meeting in Bhubaneswar on who should be the organisation’s international president, precipitating Saturday’s election.

While one group backed Kokje, who was then the VHP international vice-president, another pitched for giving Reddy another term.

Kokje was appointed a judge of Madhya Pradesh high court in 1990 and served as acting chief justice of Rajasthan high court for 11 months in 2001; he was designated senior advocate of the Supreme Court in September 2002 and in 2003 appointed Himachal Pradesh governor, a post he held until 2008.

Reddy was assisted by outgoing working president Togadia, whose relations with Modi have soured over time. He has periodically questioned the government’s stance on building a Ram temple in Ayodhya. In January,he alleged that “some people” were plotting to kill him to silence his voice on issues such as the Ram temple.

Togadia recently went public with the information that Modi and he have not spoken since 2002 and that despite letters he had written to the latter to bury the hatchet, there had been no response from the PM.

“What was my fault, for 32 years I raised my voice for Hindus, I left my medical profession and my home for the cause. I never bowed to pressure and I will continue to do so,” Togadia said on Saturday soon after the result was declared.

Asserting that he had received calls of support from across the country, Togadia said he had asked his supporters to remain calm, as he sets out to find ways to push his agenda. Quoting Chanakya, he said he is preparing to “win a bigger battle by losing the smaller war.”

“I want loan waivers for farmers, I want jobs for the youth and for Pandits to be settle din Kashmir..,”he said.

The need for an election itself raised eyebrows in the Sangh; a senior functionary not wishing to be named said this was a departure from the practice of members choosing a candidate unanimously. It was also read as a snub to Togadia, and some within the organisation said the election was being held at the behest of the faction that supports PM Modi, and did not want a representative who “embarrassed the government”.

“Usually the president nominates a working president, who in turn handles the functioning of the organisation. Togadia held the position since December 2011,” the functionary said.

Togadia’s frequent outbursts against the government and his pointed barbs at PM Modi were perceived by many in the Sangh as the reason why some in the organisation pushed for his removal.

Having come to be recognised as the face of the VHP, which took on PM Modi for dubbing cow vigilantes as criminals, Togadia was seen to have breached the code of conduct of the tightly controlled organisation, said the functionary quoted above.

“At the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha in Nagpur in March, some members wanted the issue discussed, since they felt acrimonious statements made by one affiliate of the Sangh against another were against the ethos and discipline of the organisation. But the issue was left to be sorted through an election,” another functionary said, also requesting anonymity.

Togadia’s hard-line politics and his unwavering position on the issues of Ram Temple and so-called Love Jihad, however, gained him support among the more orthodox.

“There is a section within the Sangh that feels that the VHP, Bajrang Dal and even the RSS can get subsumed within the larger BJP identity if they are not allowed to pursue their ideology or are expected to fall in line with political compulsions. For this section, Togadia’s stance was a way to assert their independence,” said the second functionary.

Prior to the election, Reddy had alleged that the list of voters itself had been manipulated to ensure his ouster. He was reported to have said that 37 fake voters were added to the original list of 212 members eligible to cast their votes.

In a setback to its best- known leader Praveen Togadia, a vocal critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) on Saturday elected former Himachal Pradesh governor V S Kokje as the international president of the hardline organisation.

Kokje polled 131 votes, defeating Raghava Reddy, a close associate of VHP working president Togadia, who received 60 votes in the first election ever to the post. Reddy was seeking a third term as VHP’s international president,who gets to nominate the working president.

VHP, like the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJPI), is an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Togadia has shared an uneasy relationship with Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, and the outcome of the election is a setback to him and his followers.

The announcement was made at the end of an election that took place after members failed to reach a consensus on who should head the VHP, which has been at the forefront of the Ayodhya Ram Temple movement and, more recently, spearheaded a campaign against interfaith marriages.

A meeting of the VHP’s executive board and trustees committee, whose members form the electorate, could not reach an agreement at a December meeting in Bhubaneswar on who should be the organisation’s international president , precipitating Saturday’s election.

While one group backed Kokje, who was then the VHP international vice-president, another pitched for giving Reddy another term.

Kokje was appointed a judge of Madhya Pradesh high court in 1990 and served as acting chief justice of Rajasthan high court for 11 months in 2001; he was designated senior advocate of the Supreme Court in September 2002 and in 2003 appointed Himachal Pradesh governor, a post he held until.2008.

Reddy was assisted by outgoing working president Togadia, whose relations with Modi have soured over time.He has periodically questioned the government’s stance on building a Ram temple in Ayodhya. In January,he alleged that “some people” were plotting to kill him to silence his voice on issues such as the Ram temple.

Togadia recently went public with the information that Modi and he have not spoken since 2002 and that despite letters he had written to the latter to bury the hatchet, there had been no response from the PM.

The need for election in itself raised eyebrows in the Sangh. A senior functionary not wishing to be named said this was a departure from the practice of members choosing a candidate unanimously. It was also read as a snub to Togadia, and some within the organisation said the election was being held at the behest of the faction that supports PM Modi, and did not want a representative who “embarrassed the government”.

“Usually the president nominates a working president, who in turn handles the functioning of the organisation. Togadia held the position since December 2011,” the functionary said.

Togadia’s frequent outbursts against the government and his pointed barbs at PM Modi were perceived by many in the Sangh as the reason why some in the organisation pushed for his removal.

Having come to be recognised as the face of VHP, which took on PM Modi for dubbing cow vigilantes as criminals, Togadia was seen to have breached the code of conduct of the tightly controlled organisation, said the functionary quoted above.

“At the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha in Nagpur in March, some members wanted the issue discussed, since they felt acrimonious statements made by one affiliate of the Sangh against another were against the ethos and discipline of the organisation. But the issue was left to be sorted through an election,” another functionary said, also requesting anonymity.

Togadia’s hardline politics and his unwavering position on issues of Ram Temple and so-called Love Jihad, however, gained him support among the more orthodox.

“There is a section within the Sangh that feels that the VHP, Bajrang Dal and even the RSS can get subsumed within the larger BJP identity if they are not allowed to pursue their ideology or are expected to fall in line with political compulsions. For this section, Togadia’s stance was a way to assert their independence,” said the second functionary.

Earlier, prior to the election, Reddy had alleged that the list of voters itself had been manipulated to ensure his ouster. He was reported to have said that 37 fake voters were added to the original list of 212 members eligible to cast their votes.

First Published: Apr 14, 2018 21:52 IST