Move over, Narendra Modi. The new Hindutva mascot, Varun Gandhi, is here. Going by the requests that are pouring in from the BJP's candidates for Varun's appearance at election rallies, his stock is now evidently higher than that of the former Hindu hriday samrat.
It isn't only his crisp articulation of the pet peeves of the saffron audience which has enhanced his appeal. There is also the dynasty factor. For a member of one of the most celebrated of the country's secular political families to voice the innermost feelings of the BJP's core group of supporters is a novelty beyond compare. The use of the common contemptuous term for circumcised Muslims by the great grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru is obviously too thrilling to be missed.
Nothing that Modi says can match this -- not even his spiteful slogan of hum panch, hamare pachis underling the exponential breeding potentiality of a Muslim and his customary four wives. Modi also faces the difficulty of being the holder of a constitutional position, which must make him wary of letting his true emotions run away with him lest his entry to the US should be prohibited for a longer term.
True, Modi is known more for his deeds than words. The pogrom of 2002 is his badge of distinction in the eyes of the Hindutva lobby. Even in supposedly Leftist-oriented Kolkata, historian Tapan Ray Chaudhuri was aghast to hear Modi being praised at parties of the affluent for showing the Muslims their place. However, after leaving an indelible mark on the Gujarat and national scene, Modi has been holding his tongue.
But Varun faces no such problem. He is a newcomer, who has arrived with a bang following in the footsteps of other saffron rabble rousers like Uma Bharati and Sadhvi Rithambara. Since he has been arrested, his appeal will go up since it will further convince Hindutva aficionados that a member of the majority community cannot even say what he wants to -- a disadvantage underlined by the Shiv Sena in its praise of Varun.
The bull run, however, may not last as long as the BJP may want. The reason is that, first, there will no more secret recordings and hazy visuals of Varun's first few speeches when he spoke freely. Instead, there will be any number of TV channels dogging his footsteps and planting their lights, cameras and microphones as close to him as possible so that not one of his words is missed.
Their very presence, too, will be a constraining factor in the matter of the exercise of the freedom of speech. The party, too, will no doubt advise caution. As it is, Modi is persona non grata to nearly all of the BJP's 'secular' allies. Even in a state like Orissa, the BJP has had to drop its earlier plan to start the party's campaigning with Modi lest it antagonise its former ally, whom it apparently expects to return to the fold after a while. There is no question, therefore, of Varun being sent there, or to Bihar, where Nitish Kumar lost no time to voice his displeasure at what the young man had said.
Such built-in restrictions in the National Democratic Alliance will compel Varun to campaign only in the BJP-ruled states -- though not in Punjab in view of his unflattering references to Khalistan. But, speeches by him only in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh and such states where only the BJP runs the show will be like preaching to the converted even if he occasionally takes the risk of transgressing the limits of decency. In all likelihood, therefore, Varun's foray into politics may turn out to be a one-shot affair just as Rithambara hasn't been able to repeat her blood-curdling call for a communal holocaust -- one last khoon-kharaba -- in recent years.
However, one possibility cannot be discounted. In case the BJP fares poorly in the elections, it will no longer feel obliged to act under the various restraints imposed by the NDA partners and the legal system.
A second defeat after 2004 will mean that the BJP will have to resign itself to playing a much longer period out of power than it thought before the last general election. A longish spell out of power removes the shackles of responsible conduct. It is worth remembering that the BJP discovered its faith in Ram after sinking to its lowest point in electoral politics in 1984 when it won only two Lok Sabha seats.
It was then that its fiery sanyasins and uninhibited demagogues like Vinay Katiyar and Ashok Singhal appeared on the scene to galvanise the Hindu voters. That it had a considerable measure of success was evident not only from its first step in the corridors of power in Delhi just over a decade after 1984, but also from the anti-Muslim diatribes which float around in the cyber world to underline the durability of its support base. In the event of it stumbling in this summer's electoral hurdles, there is every possibility, therefore, of the BJP unleashing Varun, Pravin Togadia and others to recover lost ground.
It goes without saying that their endeavours will have the backing of not only the Shiv Sena and the Hindu Mahasabha, which have already expressed their support to Varun, but also of the RSS, not to mention the even more combative VHP and the Bajrang Dal. There will also be no one from the old guard to check this charge of the virulent brigade. While L K Advani will begin to fade away after a defeat, Atal Bihari Vajpayee is too ill to try to restore sanity in the organisation.