VHP hand seen in post-Modi Gujarat's communal incidents

Ahead of Id-al-Adha in the first week of October, violence rocked the communally sensitive Shahpur area. Violence erupted after Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) activists allegedly led cops to an illegal slaughter house resulting in clashes between two groups.Clashes arose in the Navsari area in South Gujarat after another complaint was lodged by VHP activists on cow slaughter. The police team which had gone to raid an illegal slaughter house was attacked.

Violent clashes in Vadodara, a day before the immersion of Ganapati idols and then some more following a controversial Facebook post. Violence continues for almost a week. Firing from police and tear gas shells, leaving the city tense before the festival day. 

In the last one month, some parts of Gujarat have been turned into communal tinderboxes ready to go off anytime setting off alarms bells in the police set-up. The sudden flare ups were reported even after the state has remained largely free from any communal incident since 2002. It was for the first time post-Narendra Modi shift to Delhi that incidence of communal violence were reported. Understandably, the incidents have grabbed the headlines and drawn attention of the police and security officials, as well as the media with security agencies hinting these incidents to be pre-meditated to disturb the communal harmony in the state.

The incidents have also fuelled suspicion that the sudden eruption of violence could be political in nature. Given that the VHP  has been at the centre of these skirmishes in some of the incidents, political observers point out there could be an attempt by the right wing group to regain its ground in the state which it had lost in the last  one decade. Under the Modi regime, the VHP had been marginalised to a large extent with Narendra Modi distancing himself from its leaders such as Pravin Togadiya.

Observers point out a pattern in the run up to the recent spate of violence in the state. The VHP first created a din when it decided to prevent Muslim youths from participating in the Navratri festivals in the communally sensitive Godhra town.  Then there were pamphlets circulated by the organisation cautioning parents of young  girls about love jihad.

“There had been a safe distance between Modi and the VHP. In fact, the VHP never found a space in his political agenda in the last one decade,’’ said senior columnist R K Mishra. He said the right wing organisation had been living in oblivion  and now with  Modi moving out of the state, they see a chance to make a comeback in the political scenario of the state and these are some of the steps toward an effort in that direction.

Uncontrolled riots
Mishra pointed out that Modi had dealt with the VHP with an attitude which the saffron affiliate never appreciated. “Hence in 2009, when  the state government demolished hundreds of illegal temple structures across the state and arrested a VHP leader from North Gujarat just  ahead of Diwali, there was no opposition or voice of dissent,’’ said  Mishra. The opposition Congress, has, however, not missed out on the chance of lashing out at the state government and its soft approach toward the saffron body. Leader of the Opposition Shankersinh Vaghela said, “If the right people were arrested, why such incidents keep recurring?’’ He said that the state had seen a bitter past and does not want to go back to the era of riots again. Vaghela said the BJP never had the political will to control riots and history has proved it. “They have ensured riots are not controlled and  have always gained political mileage out of such situations,’’ said Vaghela.

However, disagreeing with analysts,  director of a journalism institute and political analyst Shirish Kashikar said, “The VHP had been an active organisation even during the regime of Modi but the only difference was that there was  no apparent political confrontation between the saffron affiliate and Modi.’’ Kashikar said that the VHP had always objected to issues like cow slaughter and  other issues pertaining to Hindutva. “In fact, on issues like ‘love jihad’  and the call for prevention of Muslim youths from entering garba venues, the state government has taken adequate steps to ensure that no such calls could be implemented in reality,’’ said Kashikar.

He said it was the media which got into comparisons. “In the post -Modi regime, the media directly relates all political and  non-political issues raised by any Sangh parivar outfit with Modi’s political moves,’’ said Kashikar. He said these incidents were not the handiwork of one outfit and it had nothing to do with the regime of one leader or the other.

Political analyst Vishnu Pandya points out that in the post-Modi era, the scenario has changed and riot-like situation was created in Bhuj after someone allegedly circulated some derogatory comments on Prophet Mohammed ahead of the Id. Violence was also witnessed at Idar in North Gujarat after a Shiva temple was allegedly desecrated. So, even if the police seem to be taking action, for the opposition, such actions were not enough to keep the saffron affiliate on a leash.

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