“We have to be very aggressive to protect our centuries-old religion, which is under threat from Muslim militants and Christian missionaries. We have to fight fire with fire (int ka jawab denge paththar se).”
This was what Swami Aseemanand, the mastermind of the Samjhauta Express, Malegaon, Mecca Masjid and Ajmer Sharif blasts, preached at rally after rally when he first arrived in Dangs district of Gujarat as a Hindutva Pracharak sometime in 1997.
“He was always very aggressive and used to hold small meetings to urge people to fight the jihadis and missionaries,” said Ramesh Chaudhary, a resident of Dangs district headquarters, Ahwa, told HT.
On Christmas Day in 1998, a sleepy tribal village, Subir, hit the headlines when a mob of about 1,500 right-wing activists from the VHP and Bajrang Dal attacked a Christian missionary school and a church.
The fire spread quickly. In a week, 35 churches and prayer halls were burnt down. And with this, began the journey of Swami Aseemanand, alias Jotin Chatterjee, that ended with the Mecca Masjid blast in 2007.
As a tit-for-tat strategy, he planned mass re-conversion of tribals to Hinduism, using the image of Shabari, a tribal woman devotee of Ram. He named the event Shabari Kumbh in February 2006.
The event had Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief K Sudershan and his then deputy Mohan Bhagwat, besides Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan and, of course, Gujarat CM Narendra Modi as invitees.
Securing his position in the Hundutva camp, the Swami proceeded to create a political constituency for himself. He chose Vijay Patel, a small-time Vishva Hindu Parishad, to fight the 2007 assembly elections on a BJP ticket.
Patel won as the first legislator from the district. Now, the BJP also controls the district Panchayat.
“Even during his Kumbh in 2006, the administration gave support by building roads, providing electricity and plying state transport buses,” said a forest official, who earlier served in Dangs.
Aseemanand also turned Subir into a meeting place for those who would later join him in terrorist activities. Sadhvi Pragya Singh, a prime accused in the Malegaon blast case, had not only attended the Kumbh, she used to frequent Dangs after 2006 since her parents were based in Surat, about 140 km away.