The ‘Dharam Sansad’ at Haridwar. Photo: Video screengrab

By Ashutosh Bhardwaj

This piece was first published on The India Cable – a premium newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas – and has been republished here. To subscribe to The India Cable, click here.

While the inflammatory speeches of Hindutva saints during a Dharam Sansad in Haridwar last week have gathered global attention, their other activities have gone unnoticed  — imparting weapons training to adolescent boys and girls and raising an armed vigilante brigade.

Swami Anand Swaroop said during the Sansad: “If governments do not listen to our demand, we will wage a war far scarier than the 1857 revolt.” He heads the Shankaracharya Parishad, formed in 2019 ― and also runs Kali Sena, a group of 11,000 armed vigilantes. “We keep shaastra-sammat shastra (weapons recognised by scripture), licensed weapons that can be used when the time arrives,” he told The India Cable, insisting on the need to raise an army.

Pandit Adhir Kaushik, present in the gathering, runs Akhand Parashuram Akhada in Haridwar. Its sole purpose is to impart weapons training to kids. In videos of his Akhada, tender boys and girls are trained to use swords, axes and spears. In some videos, girls fight with each other in competitions. “It strengthens the confidence of kids,” Kaushik told The India Cable, adding that “we need both shastra (weapons) and shaastra (scriptures).”

Kaushik has been working closely with Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati, convenor of the Sansad, for several years. Narsinghanand, known for his provocative speeches against Muslims, has emerged as the face of these Hindutva leaders, though others are competing with him in vitriolic speech.

The Hindu Mahasabha’s general secretary Annapurna Bharti alias Pooja Shakun strongly defends the call to raise armed groups. During the Haridwar event, she had threatened Muslims: “If you want to finish them off, then kill them… We need 100 soldiers who can kill 20 lakh of them to win this.”

“We are preparing for self-defence to save our motherland, our Sanatana Dharma. Swami Vivekananda had also asked for 100 people. Is it an offence to inspire people to become soldiers?” she asked The India Cable. “You teach and inspire people in army schools. Is it hate speech? I am speaking in a hall to my people. What’s wrong with it?” She claims to have a PhD in mathematics, has taught in a college, joined the Hindu Mahasabha in 2014-15 and took “sanyas” in 2017. Earlier, she was seen shooting at Mahatma Gandhi’s photograph.

“We will have to create an army to fight Islam,” says Darshan Bharti of Niranjani Akhada, underlining that this has been the tradition of Akhadas for the last 1,300 years. Clearly, far from being unnerved by the police cases against three persons so far — Wasim Rizvi alias Jitendra Narayan Tyagi, Pooja Shakun Pandey alias Annapurna Bharti, mahamandaleshwar of Niranjani Akhada and Dharamdas Maharaj —  these Hindutva leaders are enjoying the wide circulation of their videos, which they believe helps their cause. Their core committee of 20 leaders will meet tomorrow to determine future action. “The Opposition is being funded by Islamists. Our target is to make Bharat a Hindu Rashtra. Our Sansad is being misrepresented. we are meeting tomorrow to decide future strategy,” Swami Anand Swaroop told The India Cable. Opposing the filing of the cases, Darshan Bharti says that “the case should have been against the Quran, which openly gives the call for murders.”

Their relationship with the BJP seems identical to that which Nathuram Godse had with the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha. While they are ideologically allied to the BJP, they increasingly feel that BJP governments are not Hindu enough and have not done enough to curb Muslims. “We have written letters in blood to the governments,” Kaushik says, underlining the need for a law mandating Muslims to have not more than two children. They are annoyed that “people who were killed for the Ram Temple movement have remained unsung”. “It hurts. Our families were destroyed,” says Kaushik. “BJP has forgotten its agenda. If saints get angry, they will suffer badly,” he adds.

The clincher: they suffered business losses during the pandemic. Kaushik runs Guruji Caterers in Haridwar. His staff of nearly 500 is reduced to just 35. “We have been devastated during the pandemic,” he said, adding that “even if there’s a delay of two days in filing GST, we face a penalty… BJP people are liars. We are tired of their falsehoods. They talk about the Modi kitchen. Where’s that? They give a 10 kg packet of flour, but post it on social media. Is it ethical?”

Having received his earliest training with the RSS and the Mahasabha, Godse eventually became disillusioned with their “constitutional line” (a phrase he used in his affidavit before the court) and took a path whose consequences are still unfolding. Swami Anand Swaroop says that while “they (the BJP) have taken an oath on the Constitution to ensure law and order, we have taken an oath upon the Gita that we have to make India a Hindu Rashtra.” The path this Hindutva brigade has chosen is clear.

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