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THREE PRONGED

Religious extremism, like political extremism, borders on the bizarre, but such is its zeal that it stops at nothing. The leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Mr Praveen Togadia, is a good example of this generalization. After the pogrom of Muslims in Gujarat, he threatened to replicate it in other states. On Sunday, in Rajasthan he carried out another kind of experiment. He carried out a trishul diksha ceremony in Ajmer despite a government ban on the distribution of tridents. Mr Togadia defied a prohibitory order by leading a procession of 3000 Bajrang Dal activists. He was subsequently arrested under the Arms Act but not before he had distributed trishuls to over 600 members of the Bajrang Dal. While his arrest is to be welcomed, the fact that he was not stopped from doing what he had set out to do suggests a certain weakness on the part of the state administration. Mr Togadia was deliberately trying to provoke the administration and to spark off a confrontation. A confrontation with Mr Togadia and his cohorts would provide them with an excuse to precipitate violence. The state administration decided not to take any risks. With assembly elections looming large, the Congress government in Rajasthan cannot afford to ignore Hindu opinion. This is Mr Togadia’s politics of blackmail.

Mr Togadia’s defiance of the law shows that he considers himself either to be above the law or beyond the pale of civil society. This point needs to be underlined for those who claim Mr Togadia to be a participant in the practice of democratic politics. Mr Togadia’s religious credentials are equally dubious. Nowhere in the traditions and the rituals of Hinduism is there anything like trishul diksha, Mr Togadia’s new-fangled celebration of violence. The whole exercise is aimed at building up greater militancy among the faithful so that they are in a position to strike terror among the minorities. Mr Togadia has no other agenda. He has no respect either for the Constitution or for the traditions of the religion that he claims to uphold. Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the prime minister, has spoken more than once against religious and political extremism. But in most parts of north India, extremism is a threat that emerges from the wider political formation to which Mr Vajpayee pledges allegiance. Beyond words, Mr Vajpayee has taken no steps to quell this kind of extremism. This has indirectly encouraged men like Mr Togadia. A few days as the state’s guest in judicial custody is no guarantee that he will be reformed when he is set free. Fanatics seldom, if ever, change their spots.

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