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Nandini Oza
Nandini Oza


Friends-turned-foes:The tale of bitter war between Modi and Togadia

togadia-pravin-kidnap-afp (File) Pravin Togadia

On January 15, when Gujarat was still enjoying flying kites a day after Makar Sankranti,

the Vishwa Hindu Parishad workers took to streets. They were worried and agitated as their international working president Pravin Togadia, who enjoys “Z category” security, had gone missing.

Togadia was found in a semi-conscious condition at Kotarpur, close to the Ahmedabad airport on the same day he had “gone missing”. He had said he had to leave the office without telling anyone as “one

person” came and told him that he would be killed in an encounter. The VHP leader even claimed that he had received a phone call as well, giving him this same piece of information.

Two days later, after being discharged from a private hospital in Ahmedabad, the 62-year-old cancer surgeon-turned-VHP leader alleged that the state police was taking orders from their political masters

in New Delhi. He even demanded that call records between DCP J. K. Bhatt of the Crime Branch and Prime Minister Narendra Modi be made public. The VHP leader also raised questions about interrogation by the DCB of his aide Ghanshyam. Togadia was at Ghanshyam's residence on the day he had gone "missing".

Had the UPA been in power at the Centre, the allegations would have been perhaps understandable. However, this “mysterious disappearance” and the allegations that followed only served to bring to the fore the “cold war” between PM Modi and Togadia.

The two leaders had worked in close coordination since 1980s for establishing the BJP, especially in Gujarat. With passage of time, they grew apart, according to a senior leader who worked with both these leaders.

BJP leaders are well aware that the tussle between the two is the result of the egoistic and ambitious nature of both the leaders, but none of them are willing to come on record. Modi's political graph

continued to rise but Togadia's remained stagnant. Soon, Togadia lost his “Hindu hriday ka samrat" (monarch of the Hindu heart) tag as well. Post 2002 Godhra riots, managed to become the monarch of Hindu hearts.

“The differences between the two had started in late 1980s during the “shila yatra” taken out by the VHP.” said a former chief minister. The yatra was undertaken for construction was Ram Temple. The dispute was over the amount of money collected, he claimed.

Senior leaders in the BJP are aware that it was Togadia who used to call shots when Keshubhai Patel was the chief minister in Gujarat. He had a major say in postings in the home department and police force. According to a BJP leader, even today, there are some in the police force who owe it to Togadia.

Togadia had played a major role in building the BJP's image and that of Modi as well, said another BJP leader. During assembly elections, the BJP and Togadia used to have parallel meetings. “So

popular was Togadia that the candidates would demand a meeting by him in their constituencies to ensure victory,” said one of the candidates, who contested polls in 2002.

The bonhomie between the two leaders, who do not like to be dictated by anyone, turned sour once Modi came back to Gujarat in 2001. Modi did not like the interference by Togadia.

December 2002 assembly elections was the last time that Togadia campaigned for the BJP.

Togadia also did not like the fact that a case was registered against him and 37 others in a 1996 case in which late Atmaram Patel and others, close to Shankersinh Vaghela, were attacked at a programme in Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad.

Vahgela had rebelled and ousted Keshubhai government.

It was said one of the names doing rounds for the chief minister's post after Keshubhai's ouster was that of Togadia. But finally, Modi was the final choice of the BJP's central leadership in New Delhi.

Before he was arrested in connection with the attack case, a section of the press had his photographs.

Togadia was spotted with a big gun by his side. He had then threatened that “Gujarat would burn if he

was arrested”. However, nothing happened after his arrest.

In 2007, Togadia's former close aide Gordhan Zadafia caused embarrassment to Modi as chief minister when he refused to take oath after his name was announced. “Naturally, this was done on someone's instructions. Zadafia alone could not have taken such a decision,” said a BJP leader in the know-how of the developments that had taken place. Zadafia had defended his stand saying he was not keen on becoming a minister in a government where people's voices are not heard.

In 2008, the VHP could do nothing more than merely protest when 80 temples in Gandhinagar were brought down when Modi was the chief minister. These were constructed on encroached land.

A year earlier, Togadia had already campaigned for few candidates of the Mahagujarat Janata Party, mostly BJP rebels, in the assembly elections. However, when the equations were good between him and Modi, it is said Togadia had ensured that Shankersinh Vaghela, then contesting from BJP, lost the Lok Sabha election from Godhra seat in May 1996.

In 2014, Modi became the Prime Minister and Togadia became VHP's international working president after Ashok Singhal's demise. Togadia would have risen in designation but for Modi who enjoy much clout and can call shots even in the larger Parivar.

The BJP may have had political compulsions to implement things the saffron party once advocated vociferously like the Ram Temple or even the abrogation of Article 370, but the VHP is under no pressure. The organisation can comfortably rake up these issues along with several others—a move that Modi would not tolerate as the Lok Sabha elections is due in 20119 and eight states go to polls this year.

For Modi, the best option that seems to be out there is to ensure silence of Togadia while for the latter, the best option is to raise issues that are close to his heart. Neither of them are willing to budge, and the result is out in the open.

Observed politcal analyst Hari Desai, “Modi wants the RSS to dance to his tunes.” According to him, Modi did succeed in installing his men in other Sangh Parivar outfits like that Bharatiya Kisan Sangh,

Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and the Swadeshi Jagran Manch. However, his design failed in Bhubaneshwar last December to dethrone Togadia. The VHP leader enjoyed majority support and the election process was not completed, Desai pointed out.

Said Achyut Yagnik, another political analyst, “Togadia is on the periphery. From here whether he gets totally sidelined or is able to make a comeback remains to be seen.” The mess is reflection of problems within the Sangh Parivar, he pointed out.

He said at a time when the BJP has adopted soft Hindutva, the aggressive Hindutva of Togadia won't work. “The voters are already polarised and there can't be any further polarisation,” he added.

However, former chief minister Shankersinh Vaghela opined that if Togadia propagates Hindutva, it can benefit the BJP.

Sources said the top BJP leadership, especially Modi, is unhappy over Togadia penning a book. While not much is known about the contents of the book, it is said the book is likely to have several instances that are not in the public domain. The book is on the verge of completion.

Pradip Jain of the RSS in Gujarat admitted that the incident reflected poorly on the RSS, but added that both BJP and the RSS are different organisations, functioning differently.

Remembers Haresh Bhatt, former BJP MLA, now heading the Shiv Sena in Gujarat, “Both used to eat from one plate. It is necessary to remind the party about its agenda and one loses patience when your own party is in power and things don't get done.” He, for one, felt that the RSS was working to sort out the differences.

During his hospital stay, not a single BJP leader visited Togadia. Those who visited him included Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia, pro-Patidar stir leader Hardik Patel and former IPS officer D. G. Vanjhara.

“Normally the policy is that anyone who speaks against the prime minister, nobody goes to visit him,” remarked a senior BJP leader.

Modhwadia said he had gone to meet Togadia in his personal capacity. “Our ideologies may be different but we don't consider our opponents as our enemies like the BJP,” he said. Togadia had feared

encounter, Modhwadia said, adding that in the past there have been allegations against Modi and BJP national president Amit Shah in the case of senior BJP leader Haren Pandya's murder.

Questioned as to what was going on, state BJP spokesperson Bharat Pandya said he was not aware about the issue and would not comment on it.

Pandya, however, said the prime minister's post was important, nationally and internationally and, Modi was doing a good job and everybody should support him.

It is simple—two swords can't remain in one sheath. Once a necessity, Togadia now has become a liability of sorts.

Desai felt that the Sangh Parivar would have to intervene to avoid a vertical split. “You can not underestimate Togadia. He is down but not yet out,” he said.

Ranchhod Bharwad, general secretary of Gujarat unit of the VHP, said he would not be able to comment on matter concerning seniors.

DCP of Crime Branch Bhatt said he had said on the very first day that Togadia's version was wrong.

About Togadia's demand of making call data records between him and the PM public, Bhatt said it was up to the one levelling allegations to answer.

As of now we are not to interrogate Togadia, he said.

Togadia did not give time for an interview despite several messages and phone calls. A set of questions were also sent to him.

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