W e’re the same age you know,” I say to break the ice. Sharad Sharma, media coordinator of the Bajrang Dal at the Karsevakpuram, lifts a corner of his mouth to smile. “Is that so?” he says, seating us in his office. The next day he will be busy, he says. The outfit is celebrating its 25th birthday, and the choreography required is huge. Monkeys are such unreliable animals.
Bajrang Dal does indeed wear its connection to Hanuman on its sleeve. Vinay Katiyar, the Dal’s first president, rarely forgets to mention that lineage and the inability of the central and state governments in 1992 to stop them from demolishing the Babri masjid: “Who gave us cloth to bind our tail? It was the Congress. Who put the tail on fire? It was the Samajwadi Party. So what should we do now? It’s time to roll it out”. Prakash Sharma, national convenor, says in agreement: “Hanuman ko bandhna mushkil aur namumkin hai”. (“It’s difficult and impossible to bind Hanuman.”) Any reference to Don is unintended as most Bajrangis catch a cold, as it were, at the mention of Bollywood. TV serials, they allow themselves to watch. It’s a happy hunting ground to check what is going wrong where in the Hindu family.
At 25, the Dal has become a body of unfulfilled desires. It sulks. (“Everyone uses Ram to run their shop,” says a youth at the convention.) It destroys. (“Each Bajrangi is a bomb,” says another.) Its capacity for spectacular violence (seen in Orissa, Karnataka) is routinely used by the Hindutva combine of RSS-VHP-BJP to deepen an old project of cultural nationalism in which a oneness of community, religion and language will prevail.
And, well, toiletries too. Student leader Dilip Tripathi, for example, says he uses mustard oil on his head and has “never shampooed.” His friend Avinash, who does, uses only Hindustan Lever products; the Hindustan part is desi stock that’s why. The cue clearly comes from the top. “If we can’t have the same mother, we must have the same sanskritik (cultural) mata (mother) — Gau-mata, Ganga-mata, Bharat-mata,” says a top brass.
A few kilometres from Karsevakpuram, Somwati Markam, a young singer from Bastar, is belting out verse after verse on the lotus-shaped eyes of Lord Ram at the Ramkatha Prasikshan Kendra. Their teacher at the beginning of the session has already established that this is Kalyug, the Dark Ages. But where is Ram and where is his temple? A VHP member who is escorting us around answers: “Pehele sangathan, phir Ram (Party first, Ram later). We need to transform bhakti (faith) into shakti (power).” And they have got it right.
Modern-day communalism, strange as it may sound, is secular: places of worship have been put at the centre of political movements only to grab state power. Ram, the symbol, has served its purpose. (They have used Ram lalla as a polling agent, says Mahant Gyan Das of Sagariya Atti of Hanuman Garhi, a long-time opponent of the Hindutva brigade). The RSS has set the agenda. And the aliens (Muslims and now Christians) can now be fixed.
For Bajrangis, the youth wing of the VHP, History is Scrabble. They join words, dates, hijack icons like Bhagat Singh and give them all a whole new meaning. For them, the Indian Muslim’s paternity is fixed. “Ghori, Ghaznavi, Babar, Afzal Guru, the Batla House boys, the Muzaffarabad separatists — all terrorists need to be shot in a line,” says Prakash Sharma. The communal divide has thus now been made a national divide.
“If we ever come to power we will snatch their voting rights,” proposes a Hindu Mahasabha leader.
The Christians’ paternity is what they are competing with. “The New Church converts backwards and joins them to the Pope,” says Sharma. “In Karnataka, during morning prayers, they called Urvashi a prostitute. Since ’88, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati had been taking Jagannathji to tribal homes in Orissa, so they killed him. We have proof.” “I have just got a 16-page fax on the nun’s rape,” adds Sharad. “There was no rape.” The source of information? Unknown. We don’t get to see the report.
What we do see is tourism. “Eighty per cent of the businesses you see all around is new,” says Ram Rai Bhramar, a former clerk with the home ministry. “Here the Saryu would flow. Now there is dukaan, makaan, vyapaar, electricity, highway, Sita Rasoi...”
It’s mid-day. TV cameramen are adjusting their lenses. The stage is being cleared and the big boys are clearing their throats. Praveen Togadia is getting ready for a star turn. “When I say Islamic Attankvad, you chant samapt karo. I’ll say Madrase par and you say prabandh lagao,” he tells fellow Bajrangis. It’s good practice before election-time. And the monkeys are jumping.