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Saffron fringe

A few months ago,Delhi endocrinologist Dr R.P. Singh was faced with a huge problem.

Published: February 1, 2009 11:13 pm

Suman K. Jha

A few months ago,Delhi endocrinologist Dr R.P. Singh was faced with a huge problem. After having worked towards a “Hindu Nepal” along with various RSS outfits for years,Singh suddenly felt that the RSS—which still runs schools there,and has a dedicated pracharak for the region—was “reneging on its commitment to the Hindu cause”,when one of its senior members,looking after the region,“allowed the schools to be used by the Maoists”.

Worse,he felt that the recent instance of Nepal Prime Minister Prachanda calling on various BJP leaders during his recent visit to India “was at the instance of this particular RSS leader” and an organisation that he has floated. Singh thought that “over the last few years,the RSS had lost sight of the goals that it had set for itself”,something he took up with the organisation’s second-in-command,Mohan Bhagwat,when he met him sometime last year.

Singh was not the only Hindutva enthusiast for whom the RSS had lately spelt disillusionment. Pramod Muttalik—who broke away from the Bajrang Dal—thought the mother organisation had grown “too moderate” for his liking. Shrikant Purohit,Ramesh Upadhyay,Sameer Kulkarni,and Pragya Singh Thakur—all of whom were associated with the wider Sangh Parivar at some point—too,felt the same way.

Some floated their own outfits; others made common cause with the likes of Sudhakar Dwivedi,a self-styled Shankaracharya. Himani Savarkar of the Abhinav Bharat,who inherited the legacy of militant Hindutva in Maharashtra,was roped in. Their alleged involvement in the Malegaon blasts is being probed by the Maharashtra ATS.

The RSS,which first accused the Opposition and the media of “targeting Hindu leaders and saffron-robed sanyasis”,later nuanced its position and said that “terror and religion mustn’t be linked”.

In a closed-door meeting with well-wishers recently,Bhagwat was pointedly asked about the “lethargy” in the organisation about its “Hindu agenda”. He likened the RSS to the human body. “You cannot forcibly increase the rate at which the heart beats in your body. Were you to try that,you would collapse. The same holds true for the RSS,” he said.

However,the RSS is said to have deep-running sympathies for those implicated in the blasts. In private conversations,its leaders hold “Islamic terrorists” responsible for “forcing a reaction” from staunch Hindus.

An influential section of the BJP,too,is convinced that those implicated in the Malegaon blasts are the “future face of Hindutva”. The party liberally used Pragya’s name to mobilise votes in Madhya Pradesh while in Maharashtra,it has stayed in touch with Savarkar. The party’s local unit in Nashik had earlier helped Pragya and others arrange legal assistance.

Here,The Sunday Express looks at some of the outfits on the saffron fringe.

SRI RAMA SENE

Johnson T.A.

The Sri Rama Sene was set up in Karnataka by Belgaum-born Pramod Muttalik Desai,after he was expelled from the Bajrang Dal in 2004 following disquiet over his personal ambitions. Once out of the Bajrang Dal,Muttalik,who nursed mainstream political ambitions,sought out other radical groups. He was associated with the Shiv Sena but that came to an end after the Sena began espousing Maharashtra’s cause in the Belgaum border dispute.

Muttalik floated the Rashtriya Hindu Sena as a national outfit and created a sub-outfit to operate in Karnataka called the Sri Rama Sene. In its initial days,the Sene essentially comprised Muttalik loyalists. Many of its members are still drawn from coastal Karnataka and northern parts of the state from where Muttalik hails.

“We built the Sri Rama Sene in the Mangalore region from nothing. Previously we had built the Bajrang Dal as well. Prasad Attavar (the Sri Rama Sene vice-president now accused in the Mangalore pub attack case) had been the regional convener for the Bajrang Dal too,” says 40-year-old Pravin Valke,a class V dropout and one of the founders of the Sene. “We built the organisation not when the BJP was in power but when the Congress was in power,” says Valke,who has withdrawn from mainstream Sene work since he believes that the organisation is only carrying out attacks without focusing on real social change.

Though the Sene has made inroads into college campuses in recent times,a majority of its 2,000-odd strength still consists of 18 to 25 year olds,many of them unemployed. Top on the Sene’s agenda are banning cow slaughter,preservation of Hindu culture by preventing fashion shows,stopping women from drinking in public places,targeting inter-religious and extra-marital relationships and fighting fundamentalism in other communities.

According to police records,the major source of funding is from rich Hindus. “When we were in the Bajrang Dal,we used to receive funding from the Sangh organisations but in the Sene,resources are hard to come by. Some people help us with contributions. We are not connected to the BJP or any other Sangh Parivar members. As long as we are seen as doing good work,people will contribute,” says Valke.

Though Sene members deny links to the Bajrang Dal and the Hindu Jagaran Vedike,sources say their cadres often work for one another. The three,however,rarely infringe on areas of operation—the Sri Rama Sene is the moral police,the Bajrang Dal targets religious conversion and the Vedike tackles other issues.

In recent times,Muttalik is believed to have used his long standing with right wing outfits to forge alliances with like-minded extreme groups in Maharashtra,including the Abhinav Bharat.

ABHINAV BHARAT

Chandan Haygunde

Originally started as a secret movement in 1904 by Veer Savarkar for raising an armed struggle against the British,Abhinav Bharat was dissolved in 1952,as Savarkar thought there was no need for an armed struggle in Independent India.

Over half a century later,in 2006,an Indian army officer and a prominent Pune-based historian came up with the idea of reviving Abhinav Bharat. The officer was Lt Col Prasad Purohit,the man arrested by the state Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) as a prime accused in the Malegaon blast conspiracy. The ATS has not revealed the historian’s name.

Investigators say Purohit did not have any direct links with the RSS and the BJP. The historian,who is known for his study of Maratha history,was an office bearer of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in Pune for some time.

The foundation ceremony of the new Abhinav Bharat was held in June 2006 at the Raigad fort and Purohit later appealed to Hindu activists to join Abhinav Bharat for “fighting terrorism”. Sameer Kulkarni,a former RSS pracharak and VHP activist,came in contact with Purohit and became a full-time Abhinav Bharat worker. Retired Major Ramesh Upadhyay,who was once associated with the BJP,and Himani Savarkar,also the president of the Hindu Mahasabha,joined the outfit.

Abhinav Bharat’s Hindu agenda gained momentum in Madhya Pradesh,with hardliners such as Pragya Thakur joining the outfit. ATS sources say Purohit was in touch with staunch saffron leaders like Muttalik of the Sri Rama Sene in Karnataka and Tapan Ghosh of Kolkata—both former RSS pracharaks who later started their own outfits.

Purohit roped in arms expert Rakesh Dhawade from Pune and with his help,allegedly conducted weapon-training camps for Abhinav Bharat members.

The ATS chargesheet says the Malegaon location was decided during a meeting of the outfit—chaired by Savarkar—in Bhopal in April 2007. According to the chargesheet,Purohit said in the meeting,“There is a huge population of Muslims in Malegaon. If something is done in Malegaon,it would be like avenging the atrocities against the Hindus.” Sadhvi Pragya said she had the manpower to conduct such things. The chargesheet says Dayanand Pande,Sudhakar Chaturvedi,Major Upadhyay,Kulkarni and two others were also present at the closed-door meeting. Savarkar is believed to have walked out of the meeting.

Savarkar told The Sunday Express that she agreed to be the president of Abhinav Bharat because it was a non-political outfit working for the cause of Hindutva. “I was not very active in Abhinav Bharat. I don’t believe Abhinav Bharat has masterminded the Malegaon blast. Arresting a genuine army officer like Purohit is the conspiracy of anti-national elements,” she said.

SANATAN SANSTHA & HINDU JAN JAGRUTI SAMITI

Kavitha Iyer

The first-ever non-Kumbh meeting of over 200 Hindu pontiffs from across the country was held in Mumbai last week. But a more silent mobilisation of Hindus in and around the city has been underway for quite some time now.

In the last couple of years,an estimated 2.5 lakh Hindus have attended Dharmajagruti Sabhas or meets for religious awakening organised by the Sanatan Sanstha and the Hindu Janjagruti Samiti (HJS) across Maharashtra and Karnataka. Over 80 such meets have been held since April 2007,besides dozens of small village-level meets,the latest in Nanded earlier this month.

Dr Durgesh Samant,the chief spokesperson of the HJS,says,“We had 20,000 people attending in Jalgaon and 11,000 in Nanded. And they come despite the fact that there are no free handouts or anything.”

When some of their members were arrested in connection with the blast at Thane’s Gadkari Rangayatan early last year,the Sanatan Sanstha and the HJS were quick to say they had no role to play in their plans.

At their Dharmajagruti Sabhas,speakers “create awareness on dharma”,says Samant. They also talk about “internal and external attacks” against Hindus,and of finding solutions to terrorism. “It is an apolitical movement,” says Samant,but Shiv Sena and BJP leaders are common invitees. Recurring themes at the Sabhas include respect for national symbols and protests against offensive depictions of gods and goddesses.

Closely associated,the Sanatan Sanstha and the HJS are both registered as charitable organisations in Goa. The Sanstha was founded in 1990 by a clinical hypnotherapist,Dr Jayant Balaji Athavale,who practised for over two decades and also set up the Indian Society of Clinical Hypnosis and Research. Dr Athavale now “rarely emerges from his writing and spiritual practice”,according to a spokesperson.

The Sanstha’s largest centre in Mumbai is the Sanatan Ashram in Panvel,on the outskirts of the city,where about 150 people reside for most part of the year—Hindus who gave up regular jobs to become saadhaks or seekers,some retirees and a few families. The resident saadhaks pursue a life of spirituality,says Abhay Vartak,the Sanatan Sanstha’s spokesperson. Incidentally,the Panvel ashram was home to Ramesh Gadkari and Santosh Angre—both later arrested for the Thane blast—for several months.

One of the arms of the HJS is the Dharmashakti Sena,which offers young Hindus training in self-defence.

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