Controversial Hindutva outfit Bajrang Dal was on Wednesday booked for “promoting enmity between groups” after a video purportedly showing its cadre participating in a recent weapons training drill near the dispute site in Ayodhya went viral on social media and TV channels. The Bajrang Dal is the youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which has been at the forefront of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, and has been under the scanner for violence against religious minorities.
While the VHP described the “mock drill” as a routine annual affair, much outrage was created as the Bajrang Dal in its mock drill depicted skull-cap wearing, bearded men — the stereotype associated with the Indian Muslim male — as terrorists.
Taking cognizance of the matter, Faizabad police booked the organisers and the participants of the event under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code.
The visuals of the training programme show the Bajrang Dal cadre divided into two weapon-wielding groups — atankvadis (terrorists) and rashtrabhakt sainiks (patriot soldiers) — where the terrorists are shown being killed in the mock drill encounter. While the sainiks, are identified by saffron headbands, the terrorists are depicted as alleged Muslim terrorists from Pakistan, who also shout Islamic slogans.
Talking to The Hindu, VHP spokesperson Sharad Sharma said the visuals were from the recently concluded Shourya Prasikhshan shivir (chivalry training), held on May 14 by the Bajrang Dal as part of its annual self-defence training programme. He condemned the FIR against the Bajrang Dal and said it was part of the Samajwadi Party government’s ploy to “polarise Muslim votes” ahead of the 2017 elections.
In the mock-drill, Bajrang Dal cadre are seen being imparted training in the use of lathis, swords and rifles, even as they jump through fire-rings. The chants of Jai Shree Ram and Vande Mataram are constantly heard at the event held at the VHP headquarters in karsevakpuram, close to the dispute site.
The Bajrang Dal said its annual self-defence training was held to “boost the morale” of its cadre and denied it depicted Muslims as terrorists.
“The Bajrang Dal is doing what the government should be doing: training citizens against terrorism. Now when they say terrorism has no religion, why are they linking the terrorists to a particular religion?” Mr. Sharma asked. He claimed the “skull-caps” seen in the visuals were “handkerchiefs” and that the training event was not held at a public place. “It was held in a private campus. We don't know how it went viral,” the VHP leader claimed.
While the Congress accused the VHP and its affiliated groups of trying to fan communal tension before the 2017 elections, the BJP disassociated itself from the event.
The Bajrang Dal, however, found support in the form of UP Governor Ram Naik, who endorsed the outfit’s right to hold self-defence programmes for the youth. The arms training is for the “purpose of self defence. There should not be any objection from any quarter. The intention behind this exercise is what counts,” Mr. Naik told television channels in Aligarh.
AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi chided the Bajrang Dal cadre saying “these jokers should be sent to [the] Border.” The Hyderabad MP further tweeted: “What will be the reaction if Muslim organisation holds such arms training camps? Answer: Skies will fall to say least.”
AAP leader Ashutosh also attacked the Bajrang Dal saying the “arms training to Bajrang Dal and creation of a private army is an indicator that BJP/RSS is planning big in UP to polarize voters for eletions.”
The VHP, however, while standing its ground, downplayed the weapons drill, saying too much focus was being given to it. “The arms drill is only a part of the overall training of the cadre. There is no separate arms training. It is an annual programme. We have organised similar events in 45 cities this year,” Mr. Sharma said.
Asked about the motive of the weapons training, Mr. Sharma said the shooting practice was given to the cadre to prepare them for jobs in the police or armed forces. “Many youths want to serve the nation and come to the defence of the dharm and samaj (religion and society). They need to learn to aim right,” Mr. Sharma said, adding that the weapons used in the drill were air rifles.