A bureaucrat once said: if the State Government does not want a riot, it won’t happen. The State Government took unprecedented steps to foil the 84-kosi parikrama that the VHP decided to undertake. But there were all of 15 people on the roads, indicating there was no local support for the VHP’s re-mobilisation around the “mandir vahin banayenge” motif. No Bharatiya Janata Party member from the State offered arrest. The few VHP members who were arrested, were released a couple of hours later and as a newspaper pointed out, a makeshift jail built overnight anticipating a flood of people who would be taken into custody, remained empty.
In Faizabad, the workshop created by the VHP in 1989 with a corpus of Rs. 2.75 crore collected during the rathyatra and “temple tourism” found sculptors working diligently to create a “ram mandir”. The interest on the money collected multiplied. With Rs. 7.5 crore in the kitty, the VHP spent most of it on materials. In 2007, work in the workshop stopped, to be revived in 2012. Right now, it is on again but to little avail. It is almost as if the VHP’s heart isn’t in it. One reason could be: Ashok Singhal of the VHP would like the Ram Mandir movement to be revived, but Pravin Togadia (the VHP’s international working president) is asking himself: what for?
In 1989-91, there was no such problem. L K Advani was leading the yatras and everyone was happy to play second fiddle to him. This time, while Narendra Modi has made it a point not to tangle with leaders as senior as Ashok Singhal, Pravin Togadia has demonstrably not shown the same kind of enthusiasm for the elevation of Modi as his other VHP colleagues. It is the BJP’s worst kept secret that Modi and Togadia enjoy an ambivalent relationship. The two were the best of friends at one time, with Togadia boasting in 2002 that: “Narendra bhai is riding the horse, but the reins are in my hand.”
During Modi’s second term, there was nothing private about Togadia’s ambitions. “I was offered the chief ministership of Gujarat twice by the sangh parivar”, he declared once, revealing that plans were afoot to create a political formation to take care of the interest of the Hindus. This because the BJP had become a “B-team of the Congress.” The Gujarat VHP tried to launch a movement around the trishul — encouraging Hindus to carry a miniature like a Sikh kripan. It found no resonance in Gujarat because Modi didn’t want any parallel Hindu structures — and Togadia had to go to Rajasthan to popularise it.
VHP supporters who used to flaunt their connections with the State Government and used to offer their services to investors in Gujarat for a small fee, found themselves cut out of all Government deals. As Modi’s second term wound down and 2007 assembly elections approached, Togadia said at a press conference that the VHP would not support the BJP in the assembly elections. He also said: “No one should consider himself the most powerful person and ruling over the hearts of the people.”
Modi had disturbed a significant interest group. Corruption went down visibly but the VHP became a firm, implacable enemy. Modi is more than familiar with the lifestyle of VHP leaders and how it is supported. There was a time during previous BJP regimes that VHP workers’ salaries used to be paid out of Gujarat Government funds. All that has stopped. But despite tension between Togadia and Modi, statements made by Ashok Singhal have been placatory and have reached out to Modi. In 2013, Modi is not particularly anxious to launch the mandir plank, though he is not doing anything to prevent others from doing it, in the full knowledge that religious polarisation will be to his advantage.
At the same time, he doesn’t want an army of people who, once mobilised, will be impossible to shrug off and will become more and more demanding. He could have hit out against the arrest of Messers Singhal and Togadia, he could have made the ban on the yatra a big issue. He did nothing. What all this means is: realpolitik is at work as much in the BJP as anywhere else. The Togadia-Modi dynamic hasn’t played itself out yet. That’s the game to watch.