By asking Hindus not to allow Muslims to buy property in ‘Hindu localities’, Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Praveen Togadia was seeking to undermine the basic constitutional values of the nation. This was no ordinary ‘hate speech’ made in the rough and tumble of elections. Mr. Togadia’s intent was far more sinister than swinging the election mood in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party. It certainly appeared to have a more long-term objective: to create a feeling of insecurity among India’s Muslims, push them into ghettos, and encourage Hindus to engage in violent action against them. Article 14 of the Constitution guarantees equality before law within the territory of India, and Article 15 prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Article 19(e) protects the rights of a citizen to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India. The VHP firebrand’s call to his Hindu audience was thus an incitement to violence and illegal actions, an invitation to encroach on properties bought by Muslims from Hindus. By asking his supporters to pressure the state to invoke — actually misuse — the Disturbed Areas Act to prevent Muslims from moving into so-called Hindu localities, Mr. Togadia was not displaying an ignorance of the country’s laws: he was actually setting a majoritarian agenda for the government.

That Mr. Togadia’s speech would not serve the immediate goals of the BJP was evident soon enough. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the mentor of both the BJP and the VHP, after first denying Mr. Togadia made such remarks, came out expressing disapproval of any discrimination on the basis of religion or caste. Coming as it did after party candidate Giriraj Singh’s speech that said the critics of the prime ministerial aspirant Narendra Modi had no place in India, but belonged in Pakistan, the BJP was expected to make an unambiguous statement condemning Mr. Togadia’s brand of politics. Mr. Modi tweeted that he disapproved of any irresponsible statement from those claiming to be the BJP’s well-wishers, but he was reluctant to go any further. At the heart of the controversy is not the question of any deviation of the BJP’s campaign from the issues of development and good governance, as Mr. Modi sees it, but fears over the fringe elements of the Sangh Parivar exerting an excessive influence over a party seen as the front-runner in the race to form the next government. Distancing himself from Mr. Togadia can only be the first step: Mr. Modi needs to reassure voters that his is not a divisive, sectarian agenda, and that if he were to head the next government he would act in the interests of all sections of the country — and not serve merely as the prime minister of the Hindu majority.

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