WATCH: are VHP training camps getting increasingly communal?
The Bajrang Dal has done it once again. A video allegedly shot at one of its workshops has gone viral on social media. The footage shows a few young men receiving weapons training. These men can be seen attacking a group of dummy enemies who resemble Muslims with beards and skull caps.
But it doesn't stop at that. The trainees in uniforms of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) are also being taught how to dispose off the dead bodies.
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All this reportedly happened in the communally sensitive city of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh, just about 125 kilometres away from state capital Lucknow.
The training camp was held at Karsevakpuram, the Vishva Hindu Parishad's Ayodhya headquarters. The Bajrang Dal and VHP have been organising such demonising events with impunity in the name of tackling terrorism.
A political spat ensued in Uttar Pradesh after the video surfaced. The ruling Samajwadi Party has termed it as a conspiracy to incite communal riots in the State. Bajrang Dal leader & BJP's Rajya Sabha MP Vinay Katiyar, has claimed that the camp is part of the tradition followed by his organisation. He insists that terrorism has no religion and the exercise is not meant to cast aspersions on any particular religion.
In reality, Katiyar is showing political expediency through this statement. He surmises that terrorists have no religion. However, not long ago RSS leaders and cadre would gleefully quote the cliché, 'all Muslims are not terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims'.
They had to eat their own words when the phenomenon of 'saffron terrorism' came to the fore in 2008. It was at that time that several Hindu hardliners were named as accused in a series of terror incidents. Katiyar's explanation notwithstanding, the question remains as to why the adversaries in these training sessions are dressed as Muslims?
Addressing the training camp, VHP's regional organisational secretary Ambrish Singh stated that VHP and Bajrang Dal have been organising shakhas and training camps to prepare youngsters against terrorism to serve the interests of the religion, society and country. He maintained that the training camp at Karsevakpuram was meant to train Bajrang Dal activists in arms such as lathi.
"The Bajrang Dal activists were taught to face and neutralise the terrorists through a live demonstration," he further added.
Nevertheless, the training camp has courted controversy after the video went viral. VHP leaders had openly proclaimed during the closing session of the camp that merely raising the slogan of 'Hindu-Muslim bhai bhai' cannot bring harmony in society.
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"You need to have a 'mai (mother)' for 'bhai' (brother). Those who are against the slogans 'Bharat Mata ki jai and Vande Matram, those who slaughter cows and talk about building a mosque in the name of the invader Babur at Lord Rama's birthplace cannot be our brothers," one of the VHP leaders thundered.
The role of the Akhilesh Yadav government is also ambiguous in this episode. The hate exercise was conducted right under the nose of the police. Yet, the local administration is blissfully ignorant of the issue.
The Samajwadi Party MLA from Ayodhya and state minister Tej Narayan Pandey has criticised the programme. "The popularity graph of the Prime Minister and his party has sharply declined. This is the reason they want to foment the communal unrest before the state elections next year. VHP and Bajrang Dal are helping the government in this conspiracy," he alleges.
Pandey claims his party and the state government are ready to tackle such anti-social forces and those seeking to disturb the peace will not be spared. However, no action has been taken so far against the people seen in the video.
The statement of Faizabad SP Mohit Gupta does little to inspire confidence. Replying to this reporter's query, he said, "This was a private programme of Bajrang Dal. It was organised in their private premises. We have not received any complaint in this regard. We will act if such a camp is organised in public place."
Gupta's explanation raises more questions than it answers. Is breaking the law allowed within private premises? How can the local administration sit silently despite clear evidence that the event incited hatred between communities?
We've seen how the National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval had himself visited West Bengal's Bardhman to probe a bomb blast that took place in a house. How can the police wash its hands off the controversy by giving an excuse that such an event did not take place in a public space?
Meanwhile, BJP and VHP leaders have jumped up in defence of the video. "There was nothing objectionable in the camp. We have been organising such events aimed at the security of our country, society and Hindu religion. As far as depicting terrorists as wearing skull caps is concerned, terrorism has no religion and one doesn't become a Muslim merely by wearing a cap and keeping a beard," says Katiyar.
Katiyar argues that the activists were not trained to make bombs or fire loaded guns.
"These were toy guns. The purpose of the exercise was to teach young people how to deal with terrorists if they enter your village or city. I don't think anybody should have a problem with this," he says.
Elections are just round the corner in UP. There is little doubt that such events will only polarise the masses in the run-up to the polls. Both the BJP and Samajwadi Party are likely to benefit from this situation. This explains their efforts to brush aside the controversy surrounding it.
Edited by Anna Verghese
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