Bajrang Dal: A Bolder Shade of Saffron

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Bajrang Dal struggles to retain its place in the vanguard of the Hindutva movement in the post-Ayodhya era (Photos: Ashish Sharma)

AT 6 AM on a summer morning in Delhi, Gyan Prakash Saraswati Vidya Mandir, a school in Meera Bagh, is abuzz with activity. Morning prayers have just concluded and the school is getting ready for some action. In the main hallway, a group of boys wrestle one another. There is a judo session in progress on the playground behind the school building. In a room on the first floor, boys crawl on the floor with guns in their hands, much like a combing operation in progress, and take aim upon the instructor’s orders. After an hour or so, all the groups converge for a joint hour-long yoga session. Welcome to a Bajrang Dal training camp, organised by the youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) as part of an exercise to energise its cadre across the country.

Outside the school, located in an upscale neighbourhood in west Delhi, there is little evidence of such an elaborate training progamme. You have to look for the small banner at the gate announcing the week-long training camp in Delhi from June 12th to June 19th. The Delhi camp had 76 participants, aged between 15 and 30 years. The goal of the so-called ‘Shaurya Prashikshan Shivir’ is to encourage and prepare young candidates to fight for the cause of Hindutva. Participants are required to stay at the training camp, where activities start as early as 4.30 in the morning and go on till 10.30 pm.

The morning session is followed by breakfast and a lecture by senior Bajrang Dal leaders about Indian history and Hindu pride. At one such talk, the speaker makes an aggressive pitch. He asks the group: “When did Babar come to India?” The group responds: “In 1505.” “India got independence in 1947. For more than 400 years, foreigners tried to destroy Hindus, but did we become extinct? No. That is because we are inheritors of a great culture given to us by gods and saints. The more they attempt to finish us, the more they will face the fury of nature and destroy themselves.” This powerful image is impressed upon young minds, which cannot help but believe that Muslims exploited Hindus and enforced conversion for centuries on end. “Hume Musalmaanon se dikkat nahin hai, unki mansikta se hai (We don’t have a problem with Muslims, but with their mentality),” adds the speaker, Manoj Verma, who is national convenor of the Bajrang Dal.

The boys break for lunch and a two- hour siesta, reconvening at 2.45 pm to discuss the country’s current affairs—a session that turns into an advisory on how to organise processions and deal with police and the administration. The physical training resumes at 6 pm and is followed by dinner and a recital of the Hanuman Chalisa before going to bed.

Verma says these camps are held annually and there is nothing new about them. “It is just that whenever there is a BJP government in power, the media starts focusing on the Bajrang Dal as a means to attack the Government,” he says. “These training camps have been organised annually since 1996. But you came to write about it only now.”

VERMA MAY NOT admit it, but there has been a spurt in the activities of the Bajrang Dal since the BJP came to power at the Centre and more recently in Uttar Pradesh. Sure, it enjoyed an unrivalled reputation as the grinch that stole Valentine’s Day, but it had mostly operated behind the scenes. Now it is trying to emerge from the shadows to compete with other, newer Hindu outfits such as the Hindu Yuva Vahini in UP and the Hindu Samhati in West Bengal. The original Hindutva warrior since the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, the Dal is trying its best to remain relevant. To be sure, the last couple of years have seen the outfit’s activities being conducted with fanfare, and with more media outreach than in the past. On May 31st, after a week-long training camp in the Braj region of Uttar Pradesh, participants marched down the streets of Firozabad with guns and sticks in their hands. “They were air guns, perfectly legal in this country,” says Verma. “Shooting is a game and there is no harm in teaching it. After all, India has produced great shooters like Abhinav Bindra, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and Jaspal Rana.” The Dal has planned a huge procession this July in Poonch, Jammu & Kashmir, in which it expects about 100,000 participants.

“Whenever BJP is in power, the media starts focusing on the Bajrang Dal as a means to attack the Government. These training camps have been organised annually since 1996” - Manoj Verma, national convenor, Bajrang Dal

Aside from the yearly camps, the Bajrang Dal also organises regular recitals of the Hanuman Chalisa. Held at local temples, these gatherings attract youth and remain a prime motivator to join the organisation. Sunny Yadav, 22, the Karawal Nagar district convenor of the Bajrang Dal in Delhi, joined the outfit at the age of 17. “My friends took me to a Chalisa session. After attending two or three sessions, I felt at ease with myself. It was relaxing and I started attending recitals regularly,” he says. In two years, he became Mandal Pramukh of the Bajrang Dal. “Today, I am a devoted member and I follow every discipline in our rule book,” he says with undisguised pride. The prescriptive pedagogy of the Bajrang Dal doesn’t seem to deter youth (a member must first touch the ground after waking up, then touch the feet of elderly members of his family before offering a prayer to God). Yadav has influenced many others youngsters to join the outfit. “There are about 4,000 Dal members in Karawal Nagar and every day we are adding 10 or so,” he says. “Anyone between 15 and 30 years of age can join.”

Manoj Verma claims the Bajrang Dal’s programmes are designed to guide the youth and keep them from going astray. “When Kanhaiya Kumar of JNU was born, his parents must have given him Lord Krishna’s name hoping he would turn out to be an exemplary human being,” says Verma. “Who would have thought this boy would raise anti-India slogans after going to college? Our focus is to save youthful energy from getting hijacked by so-called seculars.”

The Bajrang Dal claims to have 2.3 million members, thanks to a successful membership drive in 2009. Another such effort is scheduled this December. “Encouraged by the BJP victory in UP and with no solid opposition for the 2019 elections, the Dal plans to lure college students,” says Sudhir Panwar, a Lucknow-based social scientist.

The Bajrang Dal was born in 1984 along with Ayodhya’s Ram Mandir movement. “Very few people at the time knew that the Ram Janmbhoomi had been locked away in 1949 by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru,” says Prakash Sharma, former national convenor of the Bajrang Dal who is now a vice-president of the BJP in UP. “On October 8th, 1984, the VHP launched its Ram Janki Rath Yatra across UP and Bihar to create awareness about the Ram Temple.” The Babri Masjid Action Committee and some other Muslim organisations announced their opposition to the Yatra and the Bajrang Dal was formed as a counter-measure to guard against attempts to thwart it. The then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination on October 31st, 1984, interrupted the Yatra, but it was resumed with the slogan: ‘Aage badho, jor se bolo, Janmabhoomi ka taala kholo (March ahead, say aloud, unlock the Janmabhoomi)’. The holy site in Ayodhya was indeed unlocked on February 1st, 1986, and the Bajrang Dal claimed its first victory. Till then the organisation had been confined to some parts of UP and Bihar. It started to expand in 1989, when a shila pujan was performed for a Ram Temple. The Bajrang Dal became the frontal organisation for conducting support rallies across the states. In 1991, its first training camp was held in Sarkhej, Gujarat.

“We don’t need political backing but it is good to see the BJP tap the Bajrang Dal leadership. Working with a Dal or Sangh associate will make you disciplined and nationalistic in the true sense” - Prakash Sharma, former national convenor, Bajrang Dal

The leaders of the Dal claimed another victory with the demolition of the Babri Mosque on December 6th, 1992. They celebrate the day as Shaurya Diwas. “If I am asked about the proudest day of my life, I would say it was December 6th, 1992,” says Prakash Sharma, the then east UP convenor of the Bajrang Dal. “I was there at the site and it was the greatest day of my life.” Post the demolition, the Bajrang Dal and VHP were banned by the Narasimha Rao Government. The ban was revoked after a year.

“After the mosque was demolished, we had no immediate goals. The Ram temple construction would take time,” says Sharma. On July 11th, 1994, a central committee of the Bajrang Dal was set up with the aim of fighting for religion, culture and nationalism. Vinay Katiyar of the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the RSS, was named national convenor, with Jaibhan Singh Pawaiya and Prakash Sharma as co-convenors. The Bajrang Dal was no longer a fringe organisation. It started confronting Christian missionaries and attacking Muslim conversions, and by the late-1990s, it had become a headline- grabber. A Hindi magazine had published artist MF Husain’s paintings of Hindu goddesses and the Bajrang Dal vehemently opposed this, attacking Husain’s home in Mumbai in 1998 and vandalising some of his works. The outfit also started a movement for cow protection with the slogan: ‘Gaay nahin kaatne denge, desh nahin baatne denge (We won’t let the cow be slaughtered and the country be divided.)’ “While the VHP was opening new Gaushalas for cow welfare, it was the Bajrang Dal’s responsibility to stop cows from reaching abattoirs,” says Manoj Verma.

The annual training programme began in 1996. A national camp was organised in Kanpur, UP, and a manual prepared for Dal members to follow. An organisational structure fell into place. Apart from the convenor, in every block there is a Suraksha Pramukh, a Goraksha Pramukh, a Chalisa Pramukh and a Maha Vidyalaya Pramukh. The Suraksha Pramukh’s role is to protect Hindu youth, especially girls, from ‘exploitation’.

Bajrang Dal members regularly court controversy and incite violence. In 2002, Babu Bajrangi, a top leader of the Gujarat Bajrang Dal, was named in the Naroda Patiya massacre in which 97 Muslims were killed. In April 2006, two people died in a blast in Nanded, Andhra Pradesh while making bombs. Later, they were identified as Bajrang Dal members. In a similar incident in August 2006, two Dal activists died in Kanpur. However, party leaders deny any such activity carried out by the Bajrang Dal. “We never indulge in any violence,” says Verma. “But if someone attacks us, self defence is our right.”

In August-September 2008, there was a series of attacks on Christians and vandalisation of churches in parts of Karnataka and Odisha. The UPA Government of the time blamed it on the Bajrang Dal and there were demands for another ban on it. The case ended with the arrest of Mahendra Kumar, the outfit’s Karnataka convenor. As recently as April this year, Dal members attacked a police station in Agra and rescued five of their fellow members from police custody.

THE BAJRANG DAL openly flaunts its relationship with the BJP and RSS. “We are all property of the RSS and follow the RSS code of conduct,” says Prakash Sharma. “The Jana Sangh was formed by the RSS to promote Hindutva politics and the BJP is its current avatar.” Sharma joined the BJP in 2011 after working for 25 years in the Bajrang Dal. In 1991, when the BJP was looking for a candidate with Hindutva credentials for the Faizabad Lok Sabha constituency, Katiyar, a Bajrang Dal convenor and former ABVP leader, was the natural choice. Pawaiya, another senior Bajrang Dal leader, is currently a member of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s cabinet. “We don’t need political backing, but it is good to see the BJP tap the Bajrang Dal leadership,” says Sharma. “Working with a Dal or Sangh associate will make you disciplined and nationalistic in the true sense.”

“The BJP is activating these organisations with the upcoming elections in mind,” says Sudhir Panwar. “They have different names, but they are all guided by the single principle of getting votes for the BJP. They claim to be cultural outfits, but they are highly political in nature.”

Verma laughs off a question about the rise of UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s outfit Hindu Yuva Vahini. “We have 25 lakh members. We can go up to 50 lakh, but we can’t enlist. All organisations working for Hindutva and Akhand Bharat are welcome,” he says. “Wherever there is a Hindu majority, there is peace.”