VHP’s yatras,an experiment that hasn’t worked for an aloof BJP

The most striking example of the BJP tactic is the silence of its chief campaigner,Narendra Modi.

Written by Ravish Tiwari | New Delhi | Published: August 29, 2013 3:52 am

The VHP’s rallies around Ayodhya are largely a political experiment,one that hasn’t quite clicked,in a state where polarisation has worked in favour of the Sangh Parivar before.

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The BJP has tried to shield itself from the blame for any association with the VHP initiative,but party sources have indicated it is a careful tactic in a parivar where every constituent always keeps the other in the loop about its plans.

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The most striking example of the BJP tactic is the silence of its chief campaigner,Narendra Modi,who usually tweets instantly on any significant event but who has avoided commenting on the VHP’s 84-kosi parikrama or the crackdown by the UP government. Even in the Lok Sabha this week,L K Advani — the original champion of the Ram temple cause — and his protégé Sushma Swaraj chose not to raise the matter themselves,leaving it instead to Yogi Adityanath,MP from Gorakhpur. Swaraj stopped at telling reporters on Saturday that the Samajwadi Party government should have guaranteed religious freedom.

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“Modi has carefully cultivated a pro-development image since 2002. Why should he sacrifice it on the altar of the VHP in the run-up to the elections?” says a functionary in the BJP’s central unit. The source says this has nothing to do with differences with VHP international working president Pravin Togadia either. “Relations may be strained between him and Togadia,but VHP patron Ashok Singhal is Modi’s biggest champion.”

In private,BJP leaders concede that nothing happens in the parivar without the knowledge of each constituent about the other’s plans — an indication that the attempt at polarisation may have been an exercise outsourced to the VHP. “I don’t think this is happening without the knowledge of all in the parivar,” says a functionary in the BJP’s state unit.

In fact,the Ram temple issue had been discussed among top leaders of the RSS,the BJP and the VHP earlier this year,soon after Rajnath Singh had taken over as BJP president. “The Ram temple was discussed,” says a source who attended the January 31 meeting in Delhi,which included the BJP’s Rajnath,Advani,Swaraj,Murli Manohar Joshi and Ramlal,the RSS’s Bhaiyaji Joshi (number two in the hierarchy) and Suresh Soni,and the VHP’s Singhal,Togadia,Champat Rai and Dinesh Chandra.

The meeting was followed by a series of steps leading to the VHP decision on a congregation of saints at Kumbh to re-assert its commitment to building a grand Ram temple in Ayodhya. The very day after the meeting,February 1,Singhal issued a press release from Kumbh,reminding Parliament of an unfulfilled demand of constructing a Ram temple.

The release pointed out how how saints’ congregations at Kumbh in 1966 and 1989 had heralded crucial political developments. This is something even BJP strategists frequently highlight. “Don’t forget that polarisation has always helped the BJP in Uttar Pradesh,” say at least two influential functionaries,one echoing the other.

The BJP in its previous form,Bharatiya Jana Sangh,had gained electorally from the goraksha (save the cow) movement in 1966 in UP,winning 98 of 425 assembly seats. And the BJP,which won only two Lok Sabha seats in 1984,rose to 85 in 1989 on the back of a shilapujan programme for the Ram temple in 1989,and then to 120 in 1991.

The programme for the VHP’s yatras was finalised on June 11 and 12 when its kendriya margdarshak mandal met in Haridwar. This was followed by the annual meeting of the central management committee in Guwahati on July 26,when cadres from across the country were informed about the plans to organise an “84-kosi parikrama” (August 25-September 13) and a “five-kosi parikrama” (September 22-October 13),to be followed by a resolution for the construction on October 18.

The way the UP government has reacted has led to allegations from the Congress and the BSP,both of which have a lot at stake in Uttar Pradesh,that the SP and VHP have struck an understanding. In fact,the VHP had initially struggled to provoke the SP into any kind of response to the programme.

On August 3,Singhal had cautioned the UP government against stopping the yatra that month. “This yatra is being undertaken for the cause of peace and dharma jagaran and the sant fraternity would lead it from the beginning to the end. The world knows that the sants are by nature peace-loving. We would therefore request the Uttar Pradesh government and the administration not to allow any obstruction to this yatra or obstruct it themselves,” Singhal said.

After this warning evoked no response,Singhal and his colleagues eventually called on SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son,Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav,on August 17,just a week ahead of the yatra. Even then,neither leader appeared inclined to respond. This was until the SP’s Muslim face,UP minister Azam Khan,issued a public statement on August 19 criticising Mulayam’s meeting with the VHP delegation. As if on cue,Akhilesh announced denial of permission that very day.

Amid accusations of an understanding and of Akhilesh having scripted Azam’s public posturing so that he could deny permission and win the support of the minority community,the fact remains that the attempt at political mobilisation has not worked so far.

A temporary jail,set up on the Delhi-Haridwar national highway in Muzaffarnagar,illustrates the way the programme has gone. It remained vacant till even the day after the yatra. The programme had failed to gather enough numbers,nor had the crackdown on VHP activists generated any protest.

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