The musclemen of Hindutva

Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s New Delhi office, which also houses the office of its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal. File   | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Twenty-three years after it was banned following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, the Bajrang Dal on December 6 this year > renewed its pledge for a Ram temple at the mosque site. The anniversary of the demolition is technically a day of “valour” (Shaurya Diwas) for the Hindutva outfit. This year, however, Shaurya Diwas wasn’t subdued as in many past years. There were elaborate press releases and there was heightened activity on right-wing Twitter handles in support of a grand Ram temple in Ayodhya. In fact, it also appeared to be a coming-out party for the Bajrang Dal that has for many years now kept in the shadows of other Sangh organisations.

“We feel something will soon have to be done about the Ram temple. The Allahabad High Court and the Archaeological Survey of India said there was a temple. Yet, sections of Muslims and secularists are in denial. For how long can such denial continue?” said Surendra Jain, all-India adviser to the Bajrang Dal. “This year we urged Muslims to celebrate December 6 like Eid.” Mr. Jain, a former Bajrang Dal convener, is at present also the joint general secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), of which the Bajrang Dal is the youth wing.

There is a palpable spring in the stride of Bajrang Dal activists at a time when “intolerance” is being discussed within and outside Parliament. However, till now it has been more in the nature of open statements rather than large mobilisation. The event at Karsevakpuram in Ayodhya had speeches, but did not draw a huge crowd.

But why does the Bajrang Dal celebrate as an occasion of “valour” an event that led to an immediate ban, apart from sparking riots in many parts of India, in 1992? “Ban or no ban isn’t the issue,” retorted Mr. Jain without a touch of remorse. “Governments have unleashed repression for a few Muslim votes. The Babri structure was a symbol of past slavery. So, Hindus removed it. A temple should be rebuilt just as the historic Somnath temple destroyed by Mahmud Ghazni was rebuilt after Independence.”

The last time the Bajrang Dal was in the eye of a storm was during the anti-Christian riots in Kandhamal in Odisha in 2008. There were allegations of its involvement and the United Progressive Alliance government had then considered banning it.

Pattern of deniability

Dara Singh, who was accused of involvement in the 1999 murder of the missionary Graham Staines in Odisha, was reportedly its worker. But the Bajrang Dal denies he was ever its member. It is part of a pattern of deniability. In 2007, the Bajrang Dal disowned Babu Bajrangi of Gujarat after he received a Supreme Court notice for allegedly trying to separate Hindu girls (who had married outside their caste) from their husbands; Bajrangi was later convicted in connection with the 2002 Gujarat riots. The Dal has also attracted criticism for moral policing and hounding out the artist, M.F. Husain, for his sketches of Hindu goddesses, something it actually flaunts as an achievement.

The Bajrang Dal may have been discussed quite often, but few outside its circles know more about the organisation, its work, and the reasons why it came into being. In 2008, I had set out to interview the Delhi convener of the Bajrang Dal when it was blamed for the Kandhamal violence, in which about 40 people were killed. The Dal’s then Delhi convenor, Ashok Kapoor, invited me to meet him at a VHP office at Jhandewalan in the capital. The receptionist, however, denied that the place had any Bajrang Dal office. When I called up Mr. Kapoor and made the two men talk, the receptionist was friendlier and served me tea. It was at Mr. Kapoor’s residence that we met the next day.

Asked why there was this apparent secrecy about the Dal’s office at Jhandewalan, a senior VHP leader said that my information was wrong and the Dal’s office was at R.K. Puram, and not Jhandewalan. But yet another VHP leader told me that while R.K. Puram houses the central office of the Dal, Jhandewalan houses the Delhi state office. Unpacking the Dal is, thus, akin to joining the dots.

Offshoot of the temple movement

It was the Ram temple movement that marked the Dal’s creation. It was set up in 1984 for the “safety and success” of the Ram Janaki Raths that were travelling in various parts of Uttar Pradesh to mobilise support in favour of a Ram temple at the site where the Babri Masjid then stood. It was claimed that Mir Baqi, a general of Mughal emperor Babur, had demolished a Ram temple at the birthplace of Ram in Ayodhya and constructed the Babri mosque there.

The Dal helped execute all the decisions taken by “sants” in relation to the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign, recalled Prakash Sharma, who spent 25 years with the Bajrang Dal, rising to become its national convener in 2002. The decisions that the Dal helped execute were Ram Shila poojan (worship of consecrated bricks) in 1989, Shilanyas (symbolic temple foundation-laying ceremony) in 1989, the taking of the Ram Jyoti (light) to Hindu homes in 1990, and the Kar Seva in Ayodhya on October 30, 1990, where there was police firing.

The Dal soon spread to Bihar, Delhi, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. In July 1993, after the ban was revoked, the Bajrang Dal became an all-India organisation with Vinay Katiyar, now a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, as its first chief.

After Mr. Katiyar, Jaibhan Singh Pavaiya, Surendra Jain, Prakash Sharma and Subhash Chauhan became Bajrang Dal heads. The present convener, Rajesh Pandey, is from Rewa in Madhya Pradesh.

Undivided Parivar

The Dal is part of the Sangh Parivar — the large family of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-allied organisations formed by its gradual outreach to different segments of society — as the youth wing of the VHP, which was itself founded in 1964 by Shiv Shankar Apte, an RSS pracharak. The VHP was aimed at forging common ground among multiple Hindu sects that sometimes had doctrinal differences.

At the central level, the Dal has activists below the age of 45, while at the State level, the cut-off age is 40. A similar arrangement exists for the women’s forums — those below 35 are part of Durga Vahini, the VHP’s young women’s wing, while those above 35 are part of Matru Shakti (mother power), clearly aligning to the idea of a woman’s primary role being necessarily of a “mother” beyond a cut-off age.

The Sangh’s allied organisations are functionally autonomous but the link with the RSS never snaps. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) works on campuses, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) among workers, the BJP in the electoral arena, the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram among tribals, and so on. Representatives of the entire ideological family (Vichar Parivar) meet routinely and exchange notes on their activities.

People also move from one organisation to another. While a chunk of BJP leaders come from the ABVP, leaders such as Mr. Katiyar have come from the Bajrang Dal. Mr. Sharma, the Dal’s convener from 2002 to 2009, is now vice-president of the BJP’s Uttar Pradesh unit.

Levels of stridency and forms of articulation of the central ideology of Hindutva differ among Sangh-allied organisations. The Bajrang Dal is seen as among the most aggressive, and the BJP, which has electoral compulsions, the most reticent. While the BJP is largely wedded to market capitalism now, the BMS speaks a pro-labour language. The Bajrang Dal, however, assertively voices Hindutva causes, often involving socially divisive issues.

Life in the Bajrang Dal

The organisational structure of the Bajrang Dal has several tiers — the national, zonal, State, zilla and prakhand (up to one lakh population) levels; each has conveners and co-conveners.

There are some key activities that bind its cadre. Once a week, there is a Hanuman Chalisa recital, generally in temples. This apart, a Dal worker is expected to be part of a local Balopasana (worship of physical strength) Kendra, which is generally a wrestling akhada, or gymnasium.

The Dal also has a vidyarthi pramukh, an activist who is expected to spread its influence among students. But this work is strictly non-political, as the ABVP is active in the sphere of student politics — of course, the reach of the Dal is not a patch on that of the ABVP. While these activities are seen by the Dal as organisational work, it also sees work involving agitation as crucial to its scheme of things. Its involvement in the Ram temple campaign is one such example. Another is cow protection, which has been in the news through the year. The Dal mobilises opinion against cow slaughter and even captures vehicles apparently transporting cows for slaughter. They file police complaints but are open to courting confrontation when required, said a Dal functionary. The Bajrang Dal also counts helping organise an Amarnath Yatra in 1996 as a major milestone in its activity involving agitation, Mr. Sharma said.

The organisation claims a “softer side” that it seeks to showcase, though few take this seriously. “We do constructive social work too, like organising blood donation camps and offering service in hospitals,” he added.

The Bajrang Dal observes Hanuman Jayanti as Balopasana Diwas. Dal insiders say that the ideal activist should be in the image of Hanuman, strong in body and character, and ready to punish evildoers. Of course, it is a confrontational Hindutva line that informs its definition of character, leading to the viewing of potential stand-offs over cow protection or a Ram temple as central to its vision.

It annually observes October 30, the day the Mulayam Singh Yadav government opened fire on kar sevaks in Ayodhya in 1990 leading to some deaths, as a day of sacrifice. However, most of these occasions go unnoticed outside the organisation.

Except this year, Shaurya Diwas gained prominence because of the death of VHP veteran Ashok Singhal, one of the leading faces of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, on November 17, and leaders such as RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and the VHP’s Pravin Togadia saying that a Ram temple in Ayodhya would be “the real tribute” to him.

With Hindutva issues again in the limelight, and as a polariser, expect the Bajrang Dal to be seen and heard more in the days ahead.


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Printable version | Jun 16, 2021 3:14:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/on-the-bajrang-dals-borth-evolution-and-activity/article7977309.ece

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