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Absence

In Mumbai, Searching for the Bajrang Dal

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No one can find the Bajrang Dal in Maharashtra. There is no office. There are no activists on the street. There is no cause. If the group has any voice left in this state, it belongs to one man: Shankar Gaiker, a ‘convener’.

Gaiker works as a general manager for Lodha construction group. He says he can’t recall the last time there was a meeting. In fact, there is no place to meet. The Bajrang Dal’s office was shut down nearly a decade ago. So how does Gaiker meet members? “I call them,” he says. But several former Bajrang Dal activists say there is no one to call.

There is no accurate date of the establishment of Bajrang Dal in Maharashtra. But when the Shiv Sena came to power in 1995, many Bajrang Dal activists switched and remained Shiv Sainiks till Raj Thackeray launched the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and loyalties changed again. “Both Balasaheb and Raj Saheb are strong personalities. There is no one of reckoning in the Dal. Gaiker is not a leader,” says a former Bajrang Dal activist.

The last time Bajrang Dal was in the news in Maharashtra was last year. According to Abraham Mathai of the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission, on 19 April, 20 Dal activists armed with sticks barged into Douglas Memorial Church in Sonar, 36 km from Nagpur. They shouted slogans and vandalised the church. Seven people were arrested the next day. But Gaiker disowned the attack and found surprising support from the police, who say the arrested weren’t members of Bajrang Dal. In fact, a senior official of Maharashtra Police says the Bajrang Dal is now just a symbolic bogeyman used to settle smalltime conflicts. “Attacks and vandalism have become a pastime of unemployed youths in villages. Often investigations reveal there is no connection to the Bajrang Dal,” says the official.

In a state with so many rowdy parties vying for attention, the Bajrang Dal, it seems, simply couldn’t keep up with the competition.