L S Tejasvi Surya, BJP’s youth wing chief and Bangalore South MP, may have used communal rhetoric to build his political career so far, but there is now a growing uneasiness among party leaders about some of his controversial remarks, sources said.
This was reflected in the directive from the national leadership asking the 31-year-old to withdraw his recent remarks calling for Hindus to “dream big” and re-convert to Hinduism all those who had converted to Islam and Christianity, including Pakistanis, and saying that mutts and temples should be given annual targets for achieving this. Two days later, he withdrew his remarks, saying they have “regrettably created an avoidable controversy”.
#WATCH Only option left for Hindus is to reconvert all those people who’ve gone out of the Hindu fold…those who’ve left their mother religion must be brought back.. My request is that every temple,mutt should’ve yearly targets for this:BJP MP Tejasvi Surya at an event on 25 Dec pic.twitter.com/8drw0lfKAh
— ANI (@ANI) December 27, 2021
While the withdrawal of his remarks was seen in the context of the upcoming Goa elections, where the BJP is banking on a Hindu-Christian consolidation as it attempts to return to power, sources in the BJP said the directive from the party, a swift one compared to its reactions to his earlier inflammatory comments, came because the leadership of both the BJP and the RSS did not take to them kindly.
“He was asked to immediately withdraw his statement after a number of leaders from both the BJP and the RSS took strong exception,” said a party source in New Delhi.
“The directive asking him to withdraw came from the top leadership… It does not matter who delivered it to him. But the message was clear and unequivocal,” said a national office bearer.
At a program held in Udupi Sri Krishna Mutt two days ago, I spoke on the subject of ‘Hindu Revival in Bharat’.
Certain statements from my speech has regrettably created an avoidable controversy. I therefore unconditionally withdraw the statements.
— Tejasvi Surya (@Tejasvi_Surya) December 27, 2021
According to sources, even Sangh leaders in Karnataka have been “uneasy” about the way Surya has been trying to position himself as the “spokesperson” of Hindus. “Even the veterans were like: ‘Is he Mohan Bhagwat to give such a call?’” said a party source.
Although Surya has in the past got away with many of his communal statements, the latest one that he made at a programme held in Udupi’s Sri Krishna Mutt was not taken kindly.
“For one, it contradicts Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s message that the party wants to advocate in the southern region – that our party stands for sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka prayas. Secondly, he made this at the Sri Pejawar Mutt of Vishwaprasanna Theertha Swamiji, who was conferred with the Padma Vibhushan award posthumously. Although Swamiji stood for Hindu religion, this mutt is famous for its inclusive nature. There is a feeling among state BJP leaders that the mutt also conveyed its displeasure about Surya using its platform to air these views,” explained a party leader.
When asked about Surya’s comments, BJP national general secretary C T Ravi told The Indian Express: “I have no comments. Surya is our party leader and when there is any such issue, I would rather talk to him directly, not to the media.”
According to sources in the Karnataka BJP, Surya, who is widely perceived to be close to the BJP’s national general secretary (Organisation) B L Santosh, has rubbed several state leaders the wrong way with his style of functioning. “He behaves as if he does not have to bother about state leaders,” pointed out a Karnataka BJP leader.
Another senior party leader pointed out that Surya, who is seen as a Hindutva poster boy, identifies himself with party leaders hailing from Kanataka’s coastal region where the communal divide is deep. “It’s an area where the anti-minority, especially anti-Muslim, rhetoric gets traction. He is also the product of that ecosystem. When you get political patronage to support such statements, you tend to get carried away. Besides, Tejasvi Surya has never been a man of action on the ground, he always drew his strength from social media. His forte is the media and how to create headlines. As long as it helps the party to win elections, it will be tolerated, but you cannot give fodder to critics unnecessarily,” said a national leader who is familiar with the Karnataka BJP’s functioning.
Despite being seen as the tech savvy, articulate face of the party, Surya has not yet made a mark in the Lok Sabha in the last two-and-half years. In fact, he was among the nine BJP MPs missing from the House after his starred question got listed on December 20 – an absence that was noticed as it came after Prime Minister Modi’s call for party MPs to be regular in the House.
Surya’s statement was seen in the backdrop of the recent developments in Karnataka where the ruling BJP unsuccessfully tried to push through a controversial anti-conversion Bill. While the Lower House of the Assembly passed the Bill, the party decided against tabling it in the Legislative Council given the lack of a clear majority in the Upper House.