Aide loses VHP chief poll, Pravin Togadia his post

In a setback to Pravin Togadia, retired justice V S Kokje defeated his confidant Raghav Reddy to be elected as Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) international president, in a secret ballot conducted here on Saturday. Togadia, the VHP international working president, found no place in the executive body Kokje announced after the election, the first for the post of VHP president.

Togadia has been at loggerheads with the BJP and recently alleged a plot to kill him in an encounter. Soon after the election, which was held under police security, Togadia announced that he would sit on a hunger strike in Ahmedabad from April 17 and promised a “major announcement” soon.

In their joint statement, Togadia and Reddy also alleged that the election had been forced upon the VHP, said the voter list was fraudulent, and claimed government interference. An ex-governor of Himachal Pradesh and former Madhya Pradesh judge, Kokje was international vice-president of the VHP before Saturday’s election.

Reddy was seeking a third consecutive term, after 2011 and 2014. Alok Kumar has been appointed new VHP working president and Champat Rai new vice-president. The RSS sah-prant sanghchalak of Delhi, Kumar has been Delhi Assembly speaker and lawyer in various Hindutva cases.

While congratulating “the new VHP team”, Togadia said, “It is very shocking and saddening to see such a grand VHP that we all built to this fantastic level being made to bend, not for Hindu well-being but for individual whims and fancies of some powermongers. Sacrificing the very ideology for which the VHP was founded… is betraying Hindus. Hindus all over can clearly see through the dirty political designs in cracking the grand VHP and ideology this way and making Hindus unsafe and therefore dependent on one power-greedy person socio-politically.”

He added, “I appeal to all Hindus and our karyakartas to maintain peace and to associate with Hindu ahead and Hindu first for Hindu safety, prosperity and well-being. Let us together now take our commitments ahead — commitment to build a grand Ram temple at Ayodhya, to get a law passed in Parliament to ban cow slaughter, to abrogate Articles 370 & 35A in Kashmir, to deport Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims, to make farmers debt free, to make Bharat Ram Rajya.”

VHP joint general secretary Surendra Jain said that the election had been held peacefully, with Kokje getting 131 votes and Reddy 60. The entire process was videographed, while workers of the VHP’s ‘Raksha Vibhag’ kept a watch. Police restricted movement on the road outside, reportedly to avert any clash between supporters of the rival camps.

Jain hoped that Togadia and Reddy would work with the new team to take ahead the Ram temple movement. “We will try that he (Togadia) keep working with us. He is our friend and is among our top leaders,” he said. Jain added that the organisation was “firm on its commitment to a Ram temple in Ayodhya”. “A timetable cannot be declared because land is so far not in our possession. The day we have the land, work will be started. But that day will come very soon when we will invite people from across the country to do kar seva for building of Ram temple.”

He also denied any interference in the election, saying the VHP was “an independent organisation”. However, some VHP leaders admitted that the organisation could see a division. “The voting was unfortunate. Now, if Togadia will continue on any post, there will be conflict of opinion,” said a VHP leader, adding that it was unlikely the outfit would lead an aggressive temple campaign in the near future.