From a small unit limited to Vile Parle area of Mumbai, the Hindu Rashtra Sena (HRS) has grown into a radical Hindu outfit in Maharashtra. Its leader, Dhananjay Desai alias Bhai, 34, is reported to wield strong influence among the youth, particularly in the suburbs of Pune, parts of Mumbai and some districts across the state.
Police records show Desai has been named in 23 cases ranging from firearms recovery to extortion and rioting. He was among those questioned in the murder of anti-superstition activist Dr Narendra Dabholkar. Desai is currently in police custody for allegedly distributing pamphlets with objectionable content.
Despite the past cases, the state authorities seem to be taking serious note of the HRS only now, after a Muslim techie, Mohsin Sadiq Shaikh, 28, was allegedly murdered by its activists. While 17 HRS activists have been arrested in the case so far, none of them have a criminal record.
The Pune police have started compiling a dossier on the HRS with the “criminal records” of Desai and its other members. This is being considered a first step towards proposing a ban on the organisation. Asked if a ban was being proposed, Pune Police Commissioner Satish Mathur said, “It is not a one-day process. We are working in that direction. Documents about HRS activities are being collected.”
Police sources said Desai is known to be a rabble-rouser whose aim is to draw the youth, particularly from rural areas and slums, to the radical Hindutva ideology.
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“A graduate from Tilak College in Mumbai, Desai was inclined towards Hindutva ideology since his childhood,” said Yogesh Kupekar, who supervises the HRS office in Mumbai. “Bhai was influenced by the Shiv Sena in the 1980s. But he wanted to form his own group and work for the cause of Hindutva. So he started working in the name of Hindu Rashtra Sena when he was only 14 years old,” he said.
“Bhai was a teenager when he took an open stand against the Muslim mafia who carried out the 1992 Mumbai blasts. The youth got attracted to him due to his fiery speeches and aggressive protests. He soon developed a strong base in Pune and other parts of the state. Bhai got the blessings of Bal Thackeray and many Hindu sants for his dedicated work for Hindutva,” said Kupekar.
“However, we found that no political parties, including the BJP, were taking a stand on Hindutva issues. So in 2007, we got the HRS registered as a political party,” he said.
The HRS, however, is yet to contest any election. “We supported the BJP-Shiv Sena-RPI (Athavale) alliance (in the Lok Sabha polls). We did not field any candidate as it would have divided the Hindu vote bank. But Bhai held about 100 rallies across the state to campaign for the Shiv Sena, BJP candidates who later emerged victorious, “ said Kupekar.
The HRS website, which has pictures of Shivaji, Veer Savarkar, B R Ambedkar and Mahatma Phule, claims it is the only “political party that fights for the cause of God, nation and religion.”
It was in April 2007 that the HRS first hit the headlines after its activists targeted the Star News office in Mumbai for airing a story on a minor Hindu girl who wanted to marry a Muslim youth. Desai and his supporters were arrested, but later released on bail.
In September 2013, the HRS announced plans to hurl footwear at actor Sanjay Dutt, a convict in the Mumbai blasts, at a cultural programme in Pune. The programme was cancelled, but HRS activists still created a ruckus at the spot. HRS activists were also booked for staging protests outside Dutt’s Mumbai residence in May 2013.
The outfit has also taken an aggressive stand in support of Lt Col Prasad Purohit, Sadhvi Pragya and others arrested in the Malegaon blast case.
Desai is regularly invited for meetings of Hindu outfits across the country, where he shares the stage with radical Hindu leaders like Pramod Muthalik of the Shri Ram Sene and Himani Savarkar of Abhinav Bharat. Known to move in “convoy”, Desai is always accompanied by his bodyguards.
Police have observed that a majority of the HRS activists hail from poor families. “Most of the accused (in the techie case) are college dropouts and come from weak financial background,” said DCP (Zone IV) Manoj Patil.
While police believe HRS activists raise funds through extortion, Ankush Gaikwad, a state coordinator of HRS, said, “We never extort money. We all follow Bhai because he is a selfless leader. Party workers spend money from their pockets for HRS… our activities are not big budget.”