It is ironical that an organisation on the verge of being banned is all set to start its year-long silver jubilee celebrations next month.
The Bajrang Dal was born in October 1984 when the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) began its Ram Janaki yatra – the start of the historic but controversial movement against the Babri Masjid. Fearing that the then Congress run Uttar Pradesh government would not provide the yatra adequate security cover, the VHP decided to set up a youth wing for self-defence.
The response was phenomenal. Soon the VHP set up units of the Dal across the country. Styling itself the army of Hanuman, the Bajrang Dal was deeply involved in all the Ayodhya programmes that followed: the shila poojan, the Ram shila yatra, the successive rounds of kar seva at Ayodhya until the Babri Masjid was brought down.
It even embarrassed prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee when the NDA government was in power. He had to turn to the RSS to urge restraint on the Dal.
Human Rights Watch reports indict the Bajrang Dal for being involved in the Gujarat riots of 2002. It was in the forefront of attacks on restaurants and shops on Valentine’s Day.
Its role in the repeated attacks on Christians in Orissa and now Karnataka is also being probed. Its critics – and they are many - have called it the Hindu counterpart of the terrorist Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and sought its ban.
“Those who equate us with SIMI do so only to woo Muslim and Christian votes before the elections,” said Prakash Sharma, the Dal’s national convenor. “We are not violent. We only protect the interests of Hindus.”
What if the Dal is banned? “Ravana tried to ban Hanuman from Lanka and everyone knows what happened next,” Sharma responded.