AHMEDABAD: The right wing has a problem on hand in Gujarat, a state often referred to as the laboratory of Hindutva. The very narrative of the Sangh Parivar and its affiliate the Bharatiya Janata Party is now emerging as a counter-narrative, with sections of people here openly reminding the governing party what it used to claim and what it has delivered.

The most glaring example of this phenomenon is in the stand taken by the state’s leading daily Gujarat Samachar, and the response from what observers call the ‘Suvarn elite wedded to Sangh Parivar’s brand of nationalism and patriotism’, with the battle raging on social media and on the ground.

On February 15, the day after the Pulwama attack that killed more than 40 paramilitary personnel in Kashmir, Gujarat Samachar carried a banner headline that read, ‘56 ni chhati ni kaayarta: aatankiyo befaam, 44 jawan shaheed’ (The cowardice of a 56-inch chest: terrorists get a free hand, 44 jawans martyred).

The paper added: ‘Z plus security vachhe farta vadapradhan desh ni suraksha karta jawano maate laachaar’ (Prime Minister who moves around with Z-plus security helpless when it comes to protecting jawans).

That very day, banners came up outside several localities saying ‘Dogs and Gujarat Samachar Not Allowed’, and many took to the social media to troll the paper and announce their decision to discontinue their subscription.

Those behind the campaign have been circulating figures about how much the paper’s circulation has come down, while others say the figures being quoted are minuscule. “For a paper that has a circulation of several lakh to have some thousand unsold copies, even on the day it is transported late to hawkers? This is just propaganda by some upper-caste elite. The majority is more concerned with its day to day affairs.”

Sources on the ground say there is also a campaign on where people have come out saying they are willing to subscribe to two copies of the paper.

Now Gujarat Samachar is a paper that was roundly criticised for its stand on the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat, where it competed with its rivals in publishing allegedly inflammatory content which helped Narendra Modi in his avatar as Gujarat Chief Minister register a landslide victory in the assembly polls that followed.

Today, it is taking on Modi on the very narrative the BJP has been circulating over the past two decades.

There are videos in circulation that are supportive of the paper, saying it showed the guts to call a spade a spade. As one video narrates, “Those trying to suppress Gujarat Samachar are not patriots but Modi Bhakts.”

It goes on to question the Modi government’s overtures to the Pakistan establishment, the BJP’s alliance with the People’s Democratic Party in Jammu and Kashmir, and the way it celebrated ‘surgical strikes’ but cowers now from taking responsibility for the attack in Pulwama.

“It is not just about Pulwama, questions are now being asked like what did the BJP do on Article 370 even when it had a brute majority in the Lok Sabha. People are also asking that why they are not getting Narmada water for drinking and irrigation. After all for two decades the BJP has been selling the dream of Narmada being the state’s lifeline. These issues are finding space in the local media, albeit in small corners, and this is a cause of worry for the Sangh Parivar,” said a senior political observer in Ahmedabad.

People are also talking about the noise raised by Sangh Parivar affiliates after the 26/11 Mumbai attack that saw the UPA government under Manmohan Singh ease union home minister Shivraj Patil and Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh from their posts. People are asking whose head should roll now.

These currents, say sources, have compelled Hindutva organisations to change their strategy on the ground. “Instead of using their own platform or the name of their frontal organisations, programmes are now being arranged through anonymous organisers to whip up passions after the Pulwama attack, to keep the temperature high on their brand of nationalism and patriotism,” said one observer.

“There are daily marches and candlelight processions being taken out, where on one side provocative slogans are raised and on the other demands are aired addressing Modi. These demands include the removal of Article 370, promising 370 Lok Sabha seats to Modi in return.

“Since they are unable to face the people as Sangh Parivar and BJP workers, they have chosen this route,” the observer added.

According to a local resident “the behaviour of such elements suggests that they are itching for polarisation. After the Pulwama attack some of the Hindutva goons forced youngsters in the Muslim-dominated Shahpur locality to shout some slogans. This angered the Muslims as they were being projected as anti-nationals.

“Thereafter some anti-Muslim slogans were raised at a candlelight procession near Dilli Darwaja. Tempers soared and resulted in a riot in the adjoining Nagoriwad area. It all begins with first raising anti-Pakistan slogans, then anti-Kashmiri slogans, and finally comes down to anti-Muslim slogans,” the local resident disclosed.

Sources agreed that efforts were being made to keep passions high on this toxic mix, accompanied by whisper campaigns against all well-known persons who do not subscribe to the Hindutva ideology. For instance by spreading rumours that these people did not condemn the Pulwama incident vociferously enough.

“Many people feel that Hindutva organisations are getting a taste of their own medicine now. The youth that was born and has lived its life in a BJP regime, gulping down whatever was fed to him since birth in the name of the Gujarat model, is getting restless in the face of unemployment and the failure of the Sangh regime to deliver on issues the BJP has harped on for the last three decades - whether Ram Temple, demolishing Pakistan, putting an end to Kashmir problem or dilution of Article 370. All this coming ahead of the Lok Sabha polls is making the Sangh Parivar squirm, and has compelled this change in strategy,” an observer said.