Pahle paristiti hamaare vipreet thee, ab paristiti hamaare anukool hai. (Earlier the situation was against us. Now it is favouring us.),” Nagendra Singh Tomar’s hoarse voice echoes in the tiny, dimly-lit room on the ground floor of a house in a narrow lane in the Khalasi Line locality of western Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur district. Wearing a crisp white kurta-pyjama and saffron jacket, fifty-year-old Tomar, the western UP head of Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV), a right-wing organisation founded by Yogi Adityanath in 2002, is surrounded by local office bearers. Some of them want him to meet their families; some want him to acknowledge the work they have done for the Hindu samaaj; some want a selfie with him.
Yogi Adityanath’s anointment as UP chief minister has made HYV the centre of gravity in the state. The organisation that was discredited as fringe is now the mainstream. Many HYV members are of the belief that with Yogi as the head of the state, the Hindutva agenda will get a boost and the organisation’s activities will scale up multifold. To HYV members, various functions of the brigade—formation of cow vigilante groups, anti-Romeo squads, protests against religious conversions—which were earlier perceived as radical, illegal or categorised as moral policing, now appear attuned to the priorities of the new chief minister.
Senior members of HYV are out to tap this energy. Tomar, who teaches commerce at a senior secondary school in Meerut, is visiting Saharanpur as part of his western UP tour to activate HYV’s units in the region. He is astute, soft-spoken, watches his words and is conscious of the renewed interest in Vahini. “We have to identify genuine people across districts and assign duties to them,” Tomar tells a gathering of workers.
Over a luncheon meeting at the residence Dr Yogendra Rana, state vice-president of HYV, Tomar explains how the new state government will affect Vahini’s operations. “Our workers suffered a lot in previous regimes. Every time they protested, the system looked at them as wrongdoers instead of arresting the real culprits. That will change now. The administration very well understands the intention of the person at the helm of affairs and works accordingly,” he says.
By the evening, news of Romeo squads in full swing in Jhansi and the burning of two meat shops Hathras is flashing on TV channels.
Tomar’s interactions with HYV members give insights to the organisation’s plans and priorities. As Tomar juggles his schedule, a Vahini member tells him that the name of a hospital in his area has been changed to a Muslim name. Tomar says that it is a better idea to name institutions after nationalist Muslims such as ABJ Abdul Kalam instead of opting for a local leader or an unknown person.
Watch: Hindu Yuva Vahini members talk about their agenda and hopes from the new state government
A volunteer is concerned regarding many members of the Dalit community in his locality converting to Christianity. Tomar raises his pitch. “The Christian missionaries have been luring our youth for ages now. You have to identify such people and persuade them to return to their original religion,” he says.
Yogi Adityanath, head priest at the Gorakhnath math in eastern UP and five time parliamentarian, founded HYV to fight ‘Islamikaran’ of the state. “Anti-social elements started entering UP from Nepal through Gorakhpur to break up our country. The problem of fake currency, cattle smuggling and human trafficking saw a rise. Numerous mosques, madrasas and shrines (sic) started coming up solely with the purpose of propagating anti- India sentiments,” says Tomar.
Since its establishment, HYV has been operating as a shadow army of sort. It alerts the authorities but does not always rely on them. It changes its tactics depending on the situation. If need be, take things in your own hands, is the norm. “Maharaj (as Yogi Adityanath is popularly known among his followers) is fighting bad elements. And in such struggles, many a time one tends to break the law. This is why there are charges against him,” Tomar says.
Women are conspicuous by their absence in HYV. “It has been like this from the beginning.,” says Tomar about the gender disparity in Vahini. “Once we mentioned it to Maharaj. He said first we should consolidate the strength we already have.”
Young members of HYV are more vocal, emboldened and assertive. On Tuesday, they took a Vijay Yatra (victory march) in Saharanpur in which they hailed the new CM, celebrated their own valour, and warned the minority community to mend its ways.
Some of the slogans shouted at the rally were: Agar UP mein rehna hoga, Yogi Yogi kehna hoga; Yogi jee ke cheete hain, apne bal pe jeete hain; Mulla ka na qazi ka, ye desh hai veer Shivaji ka.
Maharaj seemed to them the best CM contender because he possessed the two most important traits needed to govern the state. “Woh dabangg hain aur rashtravaad se bhare hain (he is fearless and a nationalist to the core),” says Vivek Kaushik, Vahini member in Saharanpur.
“This is his second day as the CM. There is a clampdown on abattoirs. What the previous government could not do in five years, he will do in five days. He is a man of action,” adds Kaushik.
Maharaj becoming the chief minister also translates into HYV members making concerted efforts to project him as a strong leader who is out to govern. On more than occasion, senior members of Vahini looked visibly uncomfortable as we spoke to volunteers. Conversations were interrupted and we were instructed to only speak to office bearers. Reason: Yogi ji ko apmaanit karne ji saazish chal rahi hai (there is a conspiracy to malign him).”
The UP chief minister’s disciples attribute his controversial statements to a biased media. “His popularity on the ground was swelling each passing year. People were yearning for him to become CM. But the media preferred showing only some of his statements and those too, were minus the context,” says Sachin Mittal, office bearer in Meerut.
Almost all the Vahini members we spoke to said that unlike the image created by the media, Maharaj is not against any community. “A section of the Muslim community is radical. It has no respect for other religions. It protects anti-nationals and justifies criminal activities by citing religious scriptures. Maharaj unka ilaaj hain (for such people, Maharaj is the cure). Have cordial relations with good people and destroy the evil ones, is the philosophy of Hindu Yuva Vahini,” says Jagjeet Gujjar, 29, HYV member from Deoband.