Priest, polls and the beast of communalism

Rise of Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati and AIMIM in Dasna could have an impact on coming Assembly polls

Updated - November 10, 2021 06:29 pm IST

Published - November 10, 2021 05:51 pm IST - Ghaziabad

Mahakali temple in Dasna town of Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh where a board on the temple reads ‘Muslims are not allowed to enter.’ Photo: Special Arrangement

Mahakali temple in Dasna town of Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh where a board on the temple reads ‘Muslims are not allowed to enter.’ Photo: Special Arrangement

An undulating, dimly-lit road off the shining 14-lane NH 9 takes you to the sprawling Mahakali temple in Dasna town of Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. Constantly under a thick security cover, it is a rare place of worship- one can enter only after showing one’s Aadhaar card to the constable on duty, and a board on the temple reads ‘Muslims are not allowed to enter.’

The place remains in the news because its chief, Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati, keeps making headlines with provocative statements laced with hate speech against Muslims. There are multiple videos available on the Internet where he purportedly speaks against Islam and the Prophet and talks of establishing a nation devoid of Islam.

‘Life under threat’

His followers say his life is under threat in the Muslim-dominated town, while his detractors claim that he is being used by the ruling party to polarise the coming State Assembly elections.

Dasna falls under the Dhaulana Assembly constituency of the Ghaziabad Lok Sabha seat. Out of a population of around four lakh voters, at least 60 % are Muslims and Jatavs. Observers use this statistic to explain why Dhaulana is the only constituency in the area that has remained out of BJP’s hold in 2012 and 2017. After being suspended from the Bahujan Samaj Party for anti-party activities, sitting MLA Aslam Chaudhary recently joined the Samajwadi Party.

Local sources say the religion-caste arithmetic where Muslims and Jatavs keep a check on the Thakurs, the other dominant class, was one of the reasons Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath held a rally in the neighbouring Pilkhuwa town in September. In a television interview, he linked the alleged attack on a priest on the temple premises with the conversion racket that is being investigated by police. In May, the Delhi Police nabbed an alleged Jaish-e-Mohammed operative plotting to assassinate the priest.

Three FIRs

After Mr. Saraswati made provocative statements against not only Muslims but also women BJP leaders, the Ghaziabad police lodged three FIRs and initiated proceedings under the Goonda Act. Soon after, Mr. Saraswati was appointed the ‘mahamandleshwar’ of the influential Juna Akhada and he described senior Ghaziabad officials as worthless, inconsequential people.

At the temple, this correspondent came across the son of a BJP MLA from one of the Assembly constituencies in Meerut. He had come to invite Mr. Saraswati for a personal function but took the opportunity to invite him to hold at least three meetings in the constituency, describing the priest as “our Owaisi.”

Notably, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chose to make its Ghaziabad office in Dasna, where the wife of one of its State secretaries, Haji Arif Ali, is the chairman of the Town Area Committee. She is the only AIMIM chairman of a town in the State. The party also has 23 Zila Panchayat members across the State. Party president Asaduddin Owaisi has visited Dasna twice in the last six months.

Mr. Saraswati is not like the priests we generally come across. In his office, if ‘Ardhanarishwar’ is painted on the wall, a punching bag is also hanging from the roof. “I practice on it,” chuckled Mr. Saraswati, sitting behind an imposing office table. Abuses are as integral to his vocabulary as is hate against Muslims and he seems eager that his vituperative thoughts on the dangers of Islam and population control make it to the media.

He has no love lost for the central leadership of the BJP and the RSS but offers unequivocal support to Mr. Adityanath. “He has brought down the Muslim mafia in the State,” he reasoned.

Asked if he was being used for political gains, he said he knew “when to use and when to get used.”

RSS chief’s statement

On the RSS chief’s statement that Hindus and Muslims have the same DNA, he said, “it’s like saying Krishna and Kans have the same DNA.” For Mr. Saraswati, Waseem Rizvi, whose controversial book on the prophet he released recently, is a better representative of Muslims. Soon he plans to hold meetings in Saharanpur and Muzaffarnagar.

On Tuesday in Saharanpur, he praised Mr. Rizvi and appealed to the clerics of Deoband to “return to the Sanatan fold.” He plans to hold meetings in Muzaffarnagar and other districts in West U.P., where there is a significant Muslim population.

Hailing from the Shikarpur town of Bulandshahr, Mr. Saraswati said his original name was Deependra Narain Tyagi. He claimed that he did a course in chemical technology from an institute in Moscow. “I used to have many Muslim friends and had a short stint with the Samajwadi Party. After a case of ‘love jihad’ with a close acquaintance, I visited many madrasas and realised that the true picture of Islam is very different from what my friends presented,” he stated.

Hari Giri, general secretary of the largest monastic order, told The Hindu, “If you don’t remain strong, you will be driven out. We have experienced it with the Kashmiri Pandits.” He claimed a number of priests were either killed or were made to leave the temple in Dasna. “We back somebody who is educated, who can profess our religion, and who can die for religion.”

‘Tacit support of Lucknow’

Mr Ali observed, “The fact that the Baba [Saraswati] has not been arrested despite using highly provocative and derogatory language not only against Islam but also against Hindu women and government officials shows he has the tacit support of Lucknow and has some value for the ruling party.”

Dinesh Singhal, president of the Ghaziabad unit of the BJP, said they respected Mr. Saraswati as a Hindutva leader but he was not involved with party activities. “I don’t know of any indirect benefit,” he added.

Senior police official admitted that Mr. Saraswati was a threat to law and order and that the communally sensitive area could become a hotspot in the coming Assembly elections but refused to come on record.

‘A loose cannon’

Describing Mr, Saraswati as a loose cannon, a professor of a local college who refused to be named said Mr. Saraswati reminded him of the early days of BSP supremo Mayawati when she deliberately used cuss words against the upper castes to get noticed. “He is seeking a political space for himself, but both local Muslims and Hindus are aware of his tactics and they keep a distance. However, his speech and actions could have a rippling effect on other areas in the region,” he added.

Zaheeruddin, a veteran social activist, reminded that Dasna was peaceful even during the post-Partition riots. “I feel both sides should be kept in check before it is too late. Owaisi sahib gets away with a language for which an ordinary Muslim could be sent to jail by this dispensation. Similarly, Baba’s rant against Islam doesn’t go with the status that he has been granted,” he remarked.

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