VHP leader sees conspiracy to ‘expand Muslim population, using Hindu girls as machines’

‘Love Jehad’ is the new technique, says a grave-looking Chandra Mohan Sharma. But it is a ‘difficult art’, picked only after ‘madrasa-conducted training.’

“First, good-looking Muslim men are identified. They are given neutral names like Sonu and Raju.” These boys, Mr. Sharma says, are then given jeans, t-shirts, mobiles, and bikes and taught to behave. “They stand in front of schools and colleges and woo young Hindu girls. The first few times, our girls snub them.” But then, he says resignedly, they fall for it. “This jehad is about pyar se fasana – entrapment through love.”

The bespectacled joint general-secretary of the Meerut division of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), ‘which covers all of western U.P.’, he points out with a wee bit of pride, is wearing a grey safari-suit. We are sitting in a small office next to the Khatauli railway station, off the main highway, in Muzaffarnagar district late on Tuesday afternoon.

Being the protector

“Look at police records. Out of 100 girls who elope, 95 are Hindus who go with Muslim men. It is rare that Hindu boys get Muslim girls.” This, the VHP leader says conclusively, is proof of a conspiracy to ‘expand Muslim population, using Hindu girls as machines. We need to protect the honour of our daughters, bahu aur beti’.

Ignore this as meaningless rant at your own peril, for Mr. Sharma was at the “mahapanchayat” on Saturday. The protection of ‘our women’ was the common theme in many speeches, as video recordings of the event, shown to The Hindu, reveal. There is now recognition that this event added to the agitational mood, added to the insecurity, and eventually led to clashes and violence.

“On August 27, a Muslim boy teased a Hindu girl,” Mr. Sharma resumes, “and that is the root of the tensions. Tell me, which brother can accept this?” While this is now a widely accepted version of the trigger for the violence, Muslim elders in Muzaffarnagar town dispute it and insist that it was motor-cycles colliding that provoked the initial fight between young men. The fight was later given a communal colour.

Playing the victim

The patriarchal narrative, which dominates conversations with Hindu extremists across towns of western U.P, is then seamlessly linked to the narrative of victimhood.

A narrow alley off the Surajkund Road in Meerut leads up to the Bharat Mata Mandir. On the first floor lives Sudarshan, VHP’s regional organisation secretary. It is early morning. A plump man, he first reads the local editions of Dainik Jagran and Amar Ujala, puts up news clippings on his Facebook page, brushes his beard with a comb after a bath, and then turns to have a conversation.

“At each instance, this government has batted for Muslims. In the first FIR, why were parents of the Hindu boys who were killed named as culprits? They were not even present. Our simple demands were unheard,” he says.

Mr. Sudarshan insinuates that when Muslims ‘first attacked’ Hindus after the panchayat, the latter had sought police protection but were rebuffed. He reels off six incidents from the neighbouring Shamli district, where he alleged that a Muslim police official was ‘partial.’ “He even said he was a Muslim first and an IPS later. The government – led by Azam Khan – patronises such people.”

Balraj Singh, Bajrang Dal’s U.P. chief, says there is a ‘deeper conspiracy.’

“Like in Kashmir, Muslims want to take over the State. They want to take over Hindu property, and Hindu women through love jehad,” he says.

With the State government asserting that Hindu extremists had circulated a fake video to depict the August 27 incident in order to inflame Hindu passions, Mr. Singh turns it around. “Muslims had circulated it because they wanted to spread panic, fear, so that like Kashmiri Pandits, we would leave our homes.”

Politics of aggression

Mr. Sudarshan says that what happened after the mahapanchayat “was a Godhra.” “And what has happened after that is the reaction on the lines of post-Godhra in Gujarat. Hindus did not sit back.” The Bajrang Dal leader, who has traces of a red tika on his forehead, then says, “Victory will be ours. The Sangh’s work is to unite Hindus, to protect our temples, women, cows, Ganga, our religion.”

Reminiscent of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s speech in Goa in 2002, soon after the Gujarat riots, where the then Prime Minister had said Muslims tend ‘not to live in coexistence with others,’ Mr. Singh said, “If out of 10 people, I have fights with eight, the problem is with me. Why is it that Muslims fight with Jats, Gujjars, Dalits, Brahmans, Thakurs, and Kuswahas? Why can’t they live in peace?”

But it is here, with the reference to castes, that the politics behind the riots slowly reveals itself.

One Sangh activist, who insisted on being anonymous, told The Hindu, “For the first time, Jats and Muslims are fighting each other. This is a great achievement. Jats have begun thinking like Hindus first. If more Hindu castes fight with Muslims, it will be better for us. BJP will benefit.” Muslims, this activist added, needed to be ‘taught a lesson, for they thought they ruled U.P. under Mulayam.’

Mr. Singh offers a candid take. ‘To save your caste, you have to save your religion first. This message has gone out. This has happened for the first time in many years.”

But while the broader Sangh Parivar is keen to project itself as the protector of Hindus in general, and Jats in particular, against Muslims, they are ambivalent about taking full credit, perhaps in a bid to escape culpability.

Mr. Sharma in Khatauli says, “It is natural that we are involved since we talk about Hindu rights. But the Sangh does not have shakhas in all villages in the district; our organisation is weak. This is a spontaneous upsurge.” Other political leaders, however, rubbish the suggestion that over a lakh could congregate for a meeting without organisational support.