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Will 'aggressive Hindutva' be repeated in future polls?

The BJP, or at least its central leadership, says no. But sections of the party?s emerging leadership, backed by the VHP, say yes.

india Updated: Dec 28, 2002 17:03 IST

As the dust settles on a turbulent round of elections in Gujarat, the question on everyone’s mind is: Will the BJP repeat its “experiment” in the rest of the country?

The BJP, or at least its central leadership, says no. But sections of the party’s emerging leadership, backed by the VHP, say yes.

“The Hindutva lab will be repeated in Delhi via Rajasthan,” VHP’s International General Secretary Praveen Togadia announced even as the Gujarat results were being declared. He added that India will become a Hindu Rashtra within two years.

The BJP was quick to disagree. VK Malhotra, their spokesman in New Delhi, said the party did not believe in theocratic states. Senior party leaders like Sushma Swaraj and even LK Advani, who have been asked the question time and again, simply deny the idea of Gujarat being any kind of an experiment.

The point to note is that the disagreement comes from established central leaders, and not emerging or Gujarat-level leaders.

The divide was evident even in reactions to the Gujarat victory. While central BJP leaders kept repeating that the victory was accomplished on the agenda of development, Gujarat BJP President Rajendra Sinh Rana did not deny that it was a victory gained on communal grounds.

Two days later, Togadia said that the VHP will “not allow” the BJP to shift from the Hindutva agenda. “Elections in Gujarat were fought on the Hindutva agenda. We will not allow a shift to the NDA agenda,” he told a press conference.

Togadia also repeated his vision for a Hindu Rashtra within two years, where the condition of Muslims would be similar to that of Hindus in Pakistan or “slightly better”. He said that he and Narendra Modi have been childhood friends, and Modi’s agenda is the same as that of the VHP.

Again, denial came from the central leadership – this time from the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister themselves – but not state-level leaders. “It’s being said we will adopt the same formula (in other states). What’s the meaning of this?” Vajpayee asked. “The people of Gujarat have endorsed the good work done by our government.”

“We will run the government on the National Democratic Alliance’s agenda, that is what we agreed on,” Advani reiterated. But state BJP leaders were at best silent on the issue. And Modi went on to say that the Gujarat victory was a mandate for the BJP’s agenda of cultural nationalism.

These differences are significant, and some reports suggest that they run deeper than verbal shadow-boxing. Indeed they may be creating a difference in the party’s legislative profile.

Several of the ‘moderate’ ministers and BJP leaders who lost in Gujarat are saying that the VHP ensured their defeat. And local VHP leaders admit that “these moderates needed a lesson”.

The only two seats the BJP did not win in Central Gujarat were contested by finance minister Nitin Patel and former minister Jainarayan Vyas. While Vyas is the party’s most liberal face in Gujarat, Patel also got a sizeable chunk of the Muslim vote.

Both allege VHP’s role in their defeat. And the VHP does not deny this. “Vyas is more of a Congressi than a BJP man,” a state VHP leader was quoted as saying.

Four time sitting MLA from Saurashtra and agriculture minister Purshottam Rupala, who had severe differences with local RSS and VHP leaders, lost to a Congress first timer by more than 16, 000 votes.

Mulu Bera, another minister from Saurashtra who had Muslims supporting him openly, lost by a huge margin. Industries minister Suresh Mehta – who declined to bail out the Kutch VHP president arrested for rioting – also lost.

If these trends are anything to go by, then the party may be heading towards a major internal showdown before the next round of assembly elections. Modi and his followers will be rooting for a Gujarat-style of electioneering: massacring Muslims and upping the Hindutva ante. Presumably, other states’ leaders – having witnessed the experiment’s success in Gujarat – will not be averse to using it for their own gains. They will have the VHP and other lumpen elements of the parivar solidly behind them.

But the established leadership of Vajpayees, Advanis and Swarajs will try their best to prevent it. Not because they have any doubts about its vote-winning potential, but because the experiment has the name of Narendra Modi stamped upon it. And after resounding returns in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and seven other states, that will be the only name left for the party to go in with for the 2004 General Elections.

First Published: Dec 28, 2002 15:55 IST