The Vishwa Hindu Parishad is witnessing a rare race for the position of international president. The election to the post has been postponed indefinitely after two contenders have emerged, VHP sources confided, adding it was one of the unusual instances when there have been more than one contender for the post.
The VHP executive board and trustees committee was meeting on December 29 in Bhubaneswar, where the election of the new international president was to take place, when the unusual situation emerged. Sources said one section pitched the name of former Himachal Pradesh governor V Kokje — currently VHP international vice-president — against incumbent Raghava Reddy.
Reddy, of Hyderabad, is looking for a third consecutive term after completing the second last month. For both previous terms — from 2011 and 2014 — he was elected with the consensus of all trustee members.
What makes all this significant is that it may have a bearing on the position of Pravin Togadia, VHP international working president, who has emerged the public face of the organisation over the last several years. Unlike the international president, which is an elected position, the international working president is nominated by the elected president. The latter constitutes the team of office-bearers including the international working president, vice-presidents, secretary general, and joint general secretary. In his two terms, Reddy has nominated Togadia as international working president. The fact that the election for international president might see a contest has given rise to speculation whether Togadia’s position has come up against a challenge.
Nearly 200 trustees from various parts of country and abroad attended the Bhubaneshwar meeting. One section proposed Reddy for a third term when, sources said, another section took everyone else by surprise by proposing Kokje.
In the absence of a consensus, a count of support for either candidate was reportedly held. The sources The Indian Express spoke to said Reddy secured the higher support.
VHP spokesperson Surendra Kumar Jain, national joint general secretary, confirmed that the election has been postponed, but denied suggestions there would be voting to elect the international president. “The VHP is moving ahead as usual, there is no problem in the organisation, and all are working in coordination,” Jain told The Indian Express, to a question. He also dismissed suggestions of an apparent attempt to dislodge Togadia from the post of international working president.
Another VHP functionary said, “Kokje’s name was proposed because he is a retired judge and a former governor and the VHP could need his experience in law when the Supreme Court has started hearing the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Mosque case.”
Until an election is held, the team led by Reddy will continue, with Togadia remaining international working president.
When contacted, Togadia refused to discuss the meeting and the election. “We do not make public what happens in internal meetings. We convey only unanimous decisions,” Togadia said. “We are not working for power; this is not a political party,” he added. “Nobody has personal, vested political interests in the VHP, and if somebody has political interests, they are not coming to the VHP.”
Togadia added the VHP will work in close coordination and under the guidance of the RSS leadership. “The Sangh is my organisation… I will follow every guidance of the RSS.”
Asked about the meeting, Kokje said a discussion was held seeking a consensus, and there was no election. “There were several options… Later it was decided to postpone this for the next meeting.” Asked about his candidature, Kokje said, “Several names are proposed for a consensus. I have been vice-president from two years; someone would have thought to name me… We don’t continue with one person for several terms.” Kokje added that Togadia was not proposed for president because he is working president. “Yeh Sangh ki sanstha hai… Matbhed ho sakte hain, manbhed nahi hote wahan,” he said, adding different opinions emerge in a democratic process.