COVER STORY: Hate Conclave

Hate conclaves targeting minorities

Print edition : January 28, 2022

Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati. He warned that India would soon have a “Muslim Prime Minister”.

A protest against the Haridwar religious conclave where speaker after speaker made communally charged speeches, in New Delhi on December 12, 2021. Photo: SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

Hate speeches by men seen until recently as “fringe elements” cause outrage but do not draw any firm reaction from either the government or the mainstream political parties in the opposition.

HATE is the reigning emotion among non-state actors, facilitating the task of polarisation ahead of the upcoming elections in five States. First in Haridwar and Delhi, then in Raipur and Ghaziabad, calls have been given out for genocide of Indian Muslims (and Christians in some cases), with the speakers urging the audience to be ready to kill in pursuit of Hindu Rashtra. In Haridwar, Yati Narsinghanand organised a Dharam Sansad on December 16-19, which was virtually a hate conclave. Ashwini Upadhyay, former spokesman of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Delhi, presented a copy of the Constitution to fellow speakers on stage. Then the speakers went on to make a mockery of the Constitution as they urged the audience to take to arms, spend money not on mobiles but on procuring weapons, and pool in their energies to control the allegedly exploding Muslim population.

One speaker, Dharamdas Maharaj, referred to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's statement that the minorities should have the first right over resources and said: "When I read that in newspapers, I wished I was an MP, had a revolver in hand, and had turned into Nathuram Godse. I would have emptied all six bullets into Manmohan Singh." Not to be outdone, Annapurna Maa, Mahamandaleshwar of Niranjani akhara, said: “If I can wield a knife, I will take up a knife. If I can use a sword, then a sword. If nothing I will use my claws like a lioness. I want you to make sure there will not be a Muslim Prime Minister in 2029. If we have to finish their population, we are ready to kill and go to jail.”

Sagar Sindhu Maharaj from Roorkee advised people to “buy weapons for at least 1 lakh”. But Yati Narsinghanand left everybody behind with the directness of his vitriol: “The only subject of this Dharam Sansad is that in 2029 the Prime Minister of India will be a Muslim. It is not a baseless thought... The way the Muslim population is increasing and our population is declining, in only seven-eight years so much will change that only Muslims will be seen on the roads.”

Also read: The spectre of an ideological state

Notwithstanding the outrage triggered by the Haridwar congregation, most political parties were immobilised by the fear-mongering of the saffron brigade. Only the Congress managed to call the so-called seers’ bluff. Rahul Gandhi stated: “The Hindutvawadis have always spread hatred and violence. Hindus-Muslims-Christians-Sikhs pay its price. But not anymore.” Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, leading the Congress campaign in the Uttar Pradesh elections, wrote on Twitter: “It is despicable that they should get away with making an open call to murder our respected ex-PM and unleash violence against people of different communities.” The Communist Party of India (Marxist) was more forthright in its condemnation and urged that the speeches at the Dharam Sansad should be treated as acts of terrorism and the accused should be arrested without delay. “The speeches are akin to supporting terrorist acts, including against former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It could continue without hindrance for three days because of the impunity such people enjoy under the BJP-led Governments,” a Polit Bureau statement read. The Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the two parties with much at stake in the upcoming election in Uttar Pradesh, remained largely silent.

Delhi and elsewhere

News of another hate conclave came in from Delhi on December 19. Here Sudarshan TV’s Suresh Chavhanke led some 250 people in pledging to give or take lives in pursuit of Hindu Rashtra. At the event organised under the auspices of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, Chavhanke vowed: “We all pledge to make this country a Hindu nation and to keep it a Hindu nation, and to move forward, we will fight, die and kill, if required.” The assembly repeated after him with their right arm raised in Nazi fashion. Chavhanke later called the participants “lions and lionesses from Hindu Yuva Vahini”.

This incitement to violence soon spread to other cities. Worryingly, school students, some not even in their teens, were administered the same oath in schools and inter-colleges in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Once again videos went viral of the students repeating the hate-filled oath, pledging to kill and die in pursuit of Hindu Rashtra. In a video from Robertsgunj, the students were clearly young children.

Also read: Hate speech at Jantar Mantar

Meanwhile, in Loni, Ghaziabad, Yati Narsinghanand’s aide and Hindu Raksha Dal chief Pinki Chaudhari delivered a diatribe against Muslims and Christians from the premises of JD Public School, reportedly on December 26. Urging his followers to behead the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asadudin Owaisi, Chaudhari ranted: “As long as the warriors and volunteers of Hindu Raksha Dal work together as a unit and follow the path of Hindutva, they will behead you [Owaisi] and make my name.” He also declared: “We face real danger from mosques and churches.” He attacked the Left, too: “If we face danger, it is from the Communist ideology. It is from mosques and madrasas. It is from the churches. If we face danger, it is from those who greet on Eid. If Islam is there, it is like fast poison. Christianity is like slow poison.”

Chaudhary, whose actual name is Bhupinder Tomar and is said to nurse political ambitions, is out on bail after he was sent to custody in September 2021 for his alleged involvement in chanting communal slogans at a rally in Delhi’s Jantar Mantar on August 8. He surrendered to Delhi Police after a procession in which his supporters garlanded and lifted him on their shoulders as Delhi Police personnel patiently waited for him to climb down and walk into the police station. A month later, he was released on bail.

Soon after Chaudhari’s meeting, Nand Kishore Gurjar, BJP MLA from Ghaziabad, undertook the task of forcing Muslim businessmen to down their shutters. “Chicken will not be sold here. Go to Delhi. Run away, or else there will not be any bail,” he told chicken shop owners.

Who is this Narsinghanand?

The shocking calls for violence from Haridwar, Delhi and Ghaziabad did not in a social vacuum. Groundwork for such calls was done in the past six years with the likes of Yati Narsinghanand and Pinki Chaudhary playing a sustained aggressive role in not just the marginalisation of the minorities but in incitements of hate and violence. That they either went scot-free or got bail within a few days of arrest emboldened the duo.

It all started with Narsinghanand forming the Hindu Swabhimaan Sena back in late 2015 and early 2016. He held 50 training camps for his Hindu “army” in Dasna on the outskirts of Delhi, and also in Meerut and Muzaffarnagar. The participants were taught to use lathis, swords and pistols. Some of them were schoolgoing children: Narsinghnand called them child soldiers. Back then, Narsinghanand urged the faithful to pick up arms and claimed that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was likely to “occupy western Uttar Pradesh by 2020”. He addressed two panchayats every month. “At the panchayats, I ask my Hindu lions to be brave and make sure they keep weapons with them at all times,” he had told the media, adding, “I am preparing my people for civil war.”

Also read: Dasna Muslims now suffer social apartheid

Narsinghanand went on to bar the entry of Muslims into the local temple by putting up a signboard that read: “This temple is a holy place of Hindus. Entry of Muslims is prohibited.” The government ignored his warning and actions then. The media dubbed him as a fringe element until he shot back into public attention during the pandemic when his volunteers thrashed a Muslim boy who had entered the temple to drink water. A video of the Dasna temple caretaker Shringi Nandan Yadav beating the helpless boy went viral in March 2021.

In April 2021, Narsinghanand launched a diatribe against the Prophet and said the Islamic faith was “filthy”. Delhi Police filed a first information report (FIR) under Indian Penal Code Sections 153-A and 295-A. It was not, however, a deterrent: Narsinghanand went on to release a book against the Prophet later in 2021. Chaudhari, too, continued to incite violence after his release on bail, as the Ghaziabad video proves. He told Frontline: “We are powerful people. We want to be rid of Islam. Muslims are p... The Modis will come and go. Hindus have to be strong in self-defence.”

Historical roots

The formation of outfits such as the Hindu Swabhimaan Sena and the Hindu Raksha Dal has its roots in history. In pre-Independence India, right-wing Hindu leaders favoured the formation of Hindu Raksha Dals in cities, towns and villages “to instil a feeling of confidence and security among the Hindu community, and to augment its strength so that the other side would not think of attacking”, as author Akshaya Mukul noted in his widely acclaimed book Gita Press. Similarly, at the Gorakhpur session of the Hindu Mahasabha in 1946, L.B. Bhopatkar, who presided over the session, called on Hindus to “take up arms in defence of their religion and culture”. The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) leader Krishna Gopal Rastogi claimed in his autobiography, Aap Beeti, to have led a mob of armed Hindus against Muslims in Kaliyar, a town near Haridwar. “I organised 250 people, including known gangsters, and raided Kaliyar.” Rastogi was to later rise to be on two committees of the Human Resource Development Ministry under Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee.

The noted historian Mridula Mukherjee agrees that the roots of today’s expression of hate and violence go deep. “Of course, it has not happened overnight. We have had different organisations of the RSS fronting up for it. Without a doubt that has been the pattern of the working of the RSS. It has had its sister organisations.”

Also read: Roots of Hindutva

However, Narsinghanand and Chaudhari, and indeed the Haridwar sants, did not directly hail from the RSS. On this, Professor Mukherjee said: “True, but this is also like the past. During the late 1980s, early 1990s when the whole Babri Masjid agitation was at its peak, we had meetings of sadhus and sants. And whatever the BJP leaders said was attributed to their demands as if the political class was merely responding to the demands of the religious figures. That was how it was projected. In a way, it is possibly a replay. I have a feeling they have gone overboard. When the Babri Masjid was demolished, there were reservations about it within the BJP. I think possibly this time too they have gone overboard with this kind of open call to genocide. This is no dog whistle. Internationally speaking, it is an embarrassment for the government. Foreign papers wrote about it. Pakistan raised the issue.”

However, there has been a pattern to the vitriol. From 2015 to 2021, Narsinghanand and Chaudhari have gradually increased the stakes, making their hate speech a step louder at each stage. Prof. Mukherjee said: “I don’t believe they are the fringe as some people argue. If there had been a stronger reaction, they would not have reached this stage. These are all illegal activities. The police had to take cognisance of this, booked them, and put them behind the bars. Just because they call themselves religious figures, that does not necessarily make them religious leaders. This is not just a tamasha for elections. The consequences are much more grave in nature.”

Meanwhile, senior officers of the Army and the bureaucracy, authors and activists wrote to the President about the hate conclaves, and the Uttarakhand Police filed FIRs against five leaders accused of hate speech at the Dharam Sansad. Whether it is a sign of better things to come, or a case of too little too late, only time will tell.

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