The Bharatiya Janata Party’s success is a case study to understand how a political party, formed by a mélange of parties, guided by the ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, rose from two seats in 1984 to 303 seats in 2019 Lok Sabha. The party has come a long way. But where are those who picked up the banner of Hindutva in the 1980s and ‘90s?
The Ram Janmabhoomi movement was a stepping stone for the BJP. It gave it a pedestal that India’s grand old party – the Congress – couldn’t even fathom. And the credit for that goes entirely to the original Hindutvawadis, who somehow are absent from the BJP’s current powerful front row. This, at a time when they should’ve held some of the most influential positions in the Narendra Modi government.
As India awaits the Supreme Court verdict on Ayodhya this month, many are already preparing for the moment when the construction of a grand Ram Mandir will begin. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath has already been setting the stage with his Diwali diya celebrations in the temple town. But in all this breathless anticipation, where are the pioneers of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement? As Modi-Amit Shah move on to a Hindutva-on-steroids state today, where are the proto-Hindutvawadis?
Uma Bharti goes ‘deaf’
Take, for example, Uma Bharti. Known to be a key figure in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 along with Murli Manohar Joshi and Lal Krishna Advani, Uma Bharti has gone on record to say this about being part of the mob: “Why should I regret it? I was involved in the Ayodhya incident. I remain unrepentant.”
Now, with a decision in the Ram Janmabhoomi title suit nearing, you hardly see her or any of her colleagues from 1992 basking in the glory of what they originally kickstarted. It is the current lot of BJP front-benchers who are riding the wave. A name to reckon with, Uma Bharti who held key portfolios during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government – such as human resource development ministry, tourism, youth affairs and sports, and coal – was given drinking water and sanitation ministry in 2017 after her ‘non-performance’ in the water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation ministry by the Narendra Modi government.
When asked about her new portfolio after she gave the swearing-in ceremony a miss, she said: “I have gone deaf. Ask party chief Amit Shah. Only he can answer this.” She has now been made a national vice-president of the BJP along with a dozen other ministers.
Margdarshak Advani and Joshi
Murli Manohar Joshi and L.K. Advani have been dealt the worse hand. Unceremoniously relegated to the ‘Margdarshak Mandal’ or the committee of old jana sanghs, the vibrant and hyperactive BJP of today seems to have no work for them in an organisation that Amit Shah runs with military precision and in corporate style. Advani and Joshi have been asked to ‘guide’ the party, which seems to be an inside joke on them since hardly anyone knows the inner workings of Modi and Amit Shah’s decision-making group.
In the first five years of the Modi government, L.K. Advani only managed to utter 365 words in Parliament, even though his attendance was 92 per cent. In March this year, Murli Manohar Joshi was told to not contest in the Lok Sabha elections. Joshi wrote to voters: “Bharatiya Janata Party conveyed to me today that I should not contest the ensuing parliamentary election from Kanpur and elsewhere.”
So, the Margdarshak Mandal is just a polite way of saying goodbye.
Togadia, Govindacharya and Katiyar’s impatience
Other names such as Govindacharya, Vinay Katiyar and Praveen Togadia have also been forgotten, or worse still, altogether dismissed as insignificant even after their contributions to BJP’s success.
Govindacharya, at one point, was a co-travelling RSS pracharak with Narendra Modi. A famous RSS ideologue mentored by L.K. Advani, Govindacharya was central to developing the concept of social engineering in the RSS. That led to the organisation promoting its OBC members such as Uma Bharti, Bangaru Laxman, Kalyan Singh, Vinay Katiyar and Sushil Modi.
Another backward caste leader the RSS promoted, from a caste that BJP claimed was added to the OBC category in 1994 while the Congress claimed it was added four months after the leader became a chief minister in 2002, was Narendra Modi.
Advani and Govindacharya also laid the intellectual basis for the mantra of pseudo-secularism and Ram Mandir through their media briefings, speeches and work in the 1990s.
In spite of this, Govindacharya is hardly ever discussed by the BJP, whereas Modi’s promotion into state and then national-level politics is due to the very strategy of Govindacharya and Advani.
Similarly, Vinay Katiyar and Praveen Togadia of the Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad respectively gained infamy as the hate-mongering Sangh Parivar motormouths who demonised Indian Muslims as people who do not belong in India. Both were strategic in mobilising the Ram Janmabhoomi movement on the ground.
The Bajrang Dal was started by Katiyar as a youth organisation to support the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement. A man who could have ideally risen to a chief ministerial position was seen in an interview last year claiming this about building the Ram Mandir: “Sarkar ke haath mein kuch bhi nahi hai (it’s not in the government’s hands).”
The firebrand Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader who was at the helm of the Ayodhya noise for nearly two decades, Togadia faced much humiliation at the hands of the BJP. In 2018, amid much drama, Togadia who went missing after the Gujarat Police went on a frantic search to arrest him, was found on a road in Ahmedabad. He was later removed from the post of Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s international working president. From mildly criticising the BJP government in 2018 for not fulfilling its promise of making the Ram Mandir, Pravin Togadia now has gone as far as to say that the BJP and the RSS have “no intention of letting the Ram Mandir be built”. The disillusionment of Togadia with BJP-RSS is stark. And so is his lack of importance within the BJP and the RSS.
Of course, India eats, breathes and lives on religion. But the Ram Mandir is no longer only about Hindus building a temple dedicated to Ram. It is a political spectacle. And the original Hindutvawadis who raised the Ayodhya pitch have now been sent on a long vanvaas.
The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal.