Relations between the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have never been particularly cordial. While the BJP has always viewed the 49-year-old ginger group in the Sangh Parivar as tool of deployment, it has been reluctant to put into practice most of the issues that the VHP flags as the hallmark of Hindu India – whether an end to the protected status of Jammu and Kashmir; or to ban cow slaughter in practice as well as precept. This reluctance to give the VHP a central place in its governance programme has caused a lot of tension between the BJP and the VHP. This tension is most clearly palpable in Gujarat where Chief Minister Narendra Modi has been firm about ending the power arbitrage attempts of the VHP.
The VHP has, however, remained undeterred and has pushed ahead with its avowed intention of representing the moral, religious force in Hindu society. True, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was unable to build the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya when it was in power. But the reasoning of the VHP is that it was an alliance and was hamstrung by this fact. Its current political aim is to install a BJP government so that those who ‘speak for 80% of India’s population have a Prime Minister in place and not those who are Prime Minister on the strength of 20% of the population.
In fact, VHP leader Pravin Togadia said as much in Bhopal earlier this year. He was asked whether he supported the naming of Narendra Modi as a candidate for the BJP’s Prime Minister. “Vishwa Hindu Parishad has no stand on BJP’s decision. VHP believes that organization is bigger than a person and nation’s good is bigger than organization, and therefore the organization doesn’t worry much about a person. We are only worried about nation’s good and Hindu ideology. We want that this country should get a prime minister who passes a law and make mandir and while doing so if he loses power, he should be ready to do it. We want a prime minister who solves the problem of Bangladeshi intrusion, who moves a law for cow protection, who brings stringent law against terrorism. We want a prime minister who worries about 100 crore Hindus. We don’t want those who worry about 120 crore people but not 100 crore Hindus, and who worry about 20 crore (Muslims) but not 100 crore Hindus. One who declares such things in his election agenda will get support of VHP.”
However, that the BJP considers the VHP a pain in the neck sometimes is the BJP’s worst kept secret. Narendra Modi saw the VHP as a force that his party rival Keshubhai Patel roused at will to stymie him and came down on the force with an iron hand. Togadia, who had once boasted that Modi was his ‘shishya’ found himself outlawed in his own state and found more traction in neighbouring Rajasthan. The VHP’s service industry in helping corporate set up shop in Gujarat was put out of business by Modi.
Although Ashok Singhal has endorsed Modi’s candidature as PM in 2012 itself, Modi has remained unmoved by offers of truce. Just last week, Bajrang Dal and VHP supporters in Ahmedabad who tore down paintings of Pakistani artists being shown at art gallery Amdavad ni Gufa, found themselves behind bars, prompting a tweet from Togadia: “Opposing Pak artists exhibition in Ahmedabad when Pak killing our army: a crime? Bajrang Dal, VHP workers picked up by police for votes!" Togadia protested to party president Rajnath Singh as well.
The Chaurasi-Kosi Parikrama at Ayodhya has been banned and top VHP leaders have been picked up by the Samajwadi Party government in Uttar Pradesh. In retaliation the VHP has called for an all India Bandh today but there is absolutely no resonance of the call anywhere in India, not even in Gujarat supposedly the laboratory for an India where majority Hindus have their rightful place. The only place where the VHP issue has been highlighted is the floor of Parliament. All this suggests an uneasy truce between two wings of the Sangh Parivar but questions the premise that the rise of the BJP in 2014 will be via the ‘Hindu empowerment’ and ‘mandir vahin banayenge’ route.