The odds are stacked against Pravin Togadia staying on as the working president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad after this weekend’s election to pick the group’s next president. A section in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which presides over the Hindutva ecosystem called Sangh Parivar of which the VHP is a key constituent, has been trying to remove Togadia for a few years now. This section of the RSS is close to Narendra Modi and it is upset with Togadia for refusing to end his decades-old, often public, opposition to the prime minister. But Togadia has managed to cling on, in no small part because the influential RSS general secretary Suresh Bhaiyyaji Joshi has intervened in his favour, most recently in December 2017. Worryingly for Togadia, this equation seems to have changed about a month ago.
In March, Joshi retained his position as the general secretary despite the concerted effort of the so-called Modi lobby that wanted to replace him with his deputy Dattatreya Hosabale, the prime minister’s closest ally in the RSS. It seems now that Joshi’s success was part of a secret bargain: the Modi lobby would back away from him if he promised not to prevent them from ousting Togadia when the time came, people familiar with the situation say.
That time has come. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad is set to hold the presidential election during its conclave in Gurgaon on April 14-April 15. Togadia is not contesting the election but its outcome will affect him directly. The Parishad’s members elect a president, who nominates a working president. It is the working president who effectively leads the group. Togadia was nominated to the position by his loyalist G Raghava Reddy soon after he took over as president in December 2011.
The game plan
The plan to oust Togadia was set in motion as soon as the RSS conclave that re-elected Joshi for the fourth consecutive term ended in Nagpur on March 11, people familiar with the situation say.
The next day, the RSS sent a letter to Reddy, informing him of its decision to conduct an election for the president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and directing him to send his suggestions by 5 pm on March 13. “Such a short notice shocked Reddy,” said a leader of the Parishad close to him. “But he responded to the letter immediately and sent his suggestions by email five minutes before the deadline.”
On March 15, Reddy got another letter, signed by the Parishad’s organising general secretary Dinesh Chandra, stating that the election would be held on April 14. Reddy has since suggested that the RSS is manipulating the election against him.
Since it was founded in 1964, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has never held an election for its president, always preferring to fill the post unanimously. But since it would be almost impossible to build consensus for dislodging the Togadia-Reddy regime given their “overwhelming support” within the organisation, the leader said, the RSS has settled for an election. It is backing VS Kokje, a former High Court judge and Himachal Pradesh governor, to take on Reddy.
The Modi lobby had tried to replace Reddy with Kokje at the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s conclave in Bhubaneswar on December 29, but the bid failed. “In December, the Modi lobby may not have backed off had Bhaiyyaji Joshi supported Kokje’s candidature,” an RSS leader said.
Togadia could yet survive given that his influence in the Parishad runs deep. But, unlike on previous occasions, he might not be able count on Joshi. Most likely, he will have to fight it alone.