New Delhi, Nov. 1: Ashok Singhal today formally handed the baton of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to Praveen Togadia at a Diwali milan party hosted for the media.
The usually ramrod-straight VHP working president walked with a slouch. “My heart is filled with sadness, I did not want to speak,” he said and then went on to counter the perception that the latest “agitation” staged under his leadership at Ayodhya was a damp squib.
Togadia, who sat two seats away from Singhal, was unusually reticent. Asked if he was taking over the VHP, he beckoned to Singhal who realised it was time to make the declaration.
“I have always shunned publicity. But by god’s grace, in him (Togadia) we have a popular leader who will put his peers from political parties in the shade. If a political leader hopes to attract a crowd of 5,000, Togadia can draw 50,000 at any given moment,” he said.
“Therefore, political leaders are at their wits’ end on how to cope with him and they think arresting him is their best strategy. But the popular appeal god has bestowed on him has liberated me. From now on, he will shoulder all the organisational responsibilities, we are the extras.”
Although Singhal — in keeping with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s method of executing structural changes — is unlikely to be stripped of his designation immediately, Sangh sources said the decision to “replace” him with the feisty general secretary was taken at the “highest level” in consultation with the BJP brass.
The sources said the RSS increasingly felt itself “inadequate” to deal with Singhal’s open attacks on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and occasionally his deputy .K. Advani. “He is as senior in the parivar as Vajpayee and persons like (RSS sarsanghchalak) K.S. Sudarshan are far junior to him. So nobody could really rein him in and tell him what to do and what not to,” said a source.
With Singhal, his appendage, Acharya Giriraj Kishore, is also expected to “retire”, the source said. The new line-up will have Togadia, general secretary Surendra Jain and Ayodhya-based activist Champat Rai, who has since moved to Delhi. Onkar Bhave is the only remnant of the past because although he was associated with the temple “movement” from the beginning, Singhal and Kishore later marginalised him. Vishnu Hari Dalmiya will remain as a titular president.
The first clear signal that Singhal ought to step down was given by the RSS during last month’s agitation, sources said. After initially saying it would support the agitation, the RSS reportedly asked its cadre not to back Singhal’s Ayodhya show, leaving him — according to the sources — “heartbroken and demoralised”.