Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati (L). Photo: Facebook/Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati

By Alishan Jafri

Against the recent backdrop of communal violence and hate speeches against Muslims in India, a new Hindutva icon has emerged. He describes all of India’s Muslims as the jihadist enemies of Hindus and says they do not deserve the right to life. He calls Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam and even Sai Baba jihadis and traitors. His name is Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati and in the past one month he has featured in at least two top Twitter trends every week, either in his support or demanding his arrest.

Notably, the trends that support Yati are being promoted by top BJP leaders, especially Kapil Mishra who shares a close relationship with him. Kapil Mishra has now started a donation drive for Narsinghanand’s mission to “remove Islam and Muslims from the face of Earth.”

Until recently, Narsinghanand was prominent mainly in the far right Hindutva ecosystem, particularly in Western Uttar Pradesh and Delhi-NCR. Beyond those places, he was fairly unknown although he had enjoyed a massive reach on social media even before the video of a speech he had made at the Press Club of India on April 1, 2021, in which he abused Islam and its prophet, went viral.

The Press Club speech was not the first time that Yati had abused Islamic holy figures. A video clip posted by News Nation TV on YouTube on March 12, 2021, shows him using the choicest abuses for Mohammad and Islam.

Narsinghanand does not operate alone. He is backed by several inflammatory individuals on the far right, some of whom are listed below. He also makes good use of certain social media practices, gurukuls and fringe elements who operate on their own. These practices are also described below.

Deepak Singh Hindu

One of Narsinghanand’s most easily recognisable panelists in the April 1 Press Club event is Deepak Singh, the leader of an extremist Hindu force who, on the morning of February 23, 2020, had called mobs to assemble at Maujpur chowk at 2.30 pm to participate in a dharam yudh (war of religions).

In the first part of its special series, Delhi 2020: The Real Conspiracy, The Wire documented Deepak Singh Hindu’s hate speeches and his role in mobilising anti-Muslim mobs during the violence in Delhi last year. This year, just before the violent skirmishes at the Singhu border on January 30, he made a video from his car and called upon ‘dharam yoddhas’ (religious warriors) to vacate the Singhu border.

“Our issue is that we watch like cowards when these traitors create a ruckus. I will arrive in 30 minutes. Today nationalists have to unite too. Delhi is sitting on a mountain of explosives; they can vitiate the atmosphere any time, the way they did during the February riots last year. Today if we do not suppress this spark of treason, it will burn our city,” Deepak Singh Hindu said in the video on January 30.

Colonel T.P.S. Tyagi (Retired)

“If a civil war breaks out tomorrow, what is our (Hindus’) preparation?” asked T.P.S. Tyagi, Narsinghanand’s fellow panelist at the Press Club event. Tyagi is also a regular panelist on Republic TV. He is an avid supporter of Narsinghanand and is preparing Hindus to fight jihad. He believes that the time for complaint is over and direct action must begin.
“On April 2, we will start elementary military training, teaching techniques of ambush and patrolling. It will include fighting with rod and sword,” he had said, adding, “A first class building has been prepared. We just have to build a small arms range. We have adequate halls for training. I have personally served as the convener of six such courses in Ghaziabad, Muzaffarnagar and Jabalpur.”

Parmendra Arya

Training Hindus to fight ‘Islam’ is not a new feature in Narsinghanand’s ecosystem. But these days, the messages are more explicit. One of Narsinghanand’s prime mottos is “shasta mev jayate” (victory comes with weapons). A cursory search with the hashtag #ShastraMevJayate shows how pervasive the reach of this message is.

In 2017, a video of Narsinghanand surrounded by several men firing pistols and rifles in the air went viral. One of the men teaching them to fire properly was Yati’s aide, Parmendra Arya, another co-panelist at the Press Club event. In 2015, Arya featured in a documentary by the Quint. Back then, he had been working with Narsinghanand’s Hindu Swabhiman. Seven years ago, the Times of India reported that the organisation had trained child soldiers as young as seven years old and that Arya had claimed to have trained 15,000 people.

The Shaiv Shastra Gurukul

Swami Shoonya, another disciple of Narsinghanand, has started building an arms training camp. The declared objective of this group is to give self-defence and arms training to willing Hindu boys and girls to fight against jihad. Shoonya posted photos of Narsinghanand presenting the project with a foundation stone. “Remember Godhra,” he warned Muslims in a video uploaded on April 14, 2021.

Calls to Murder Muslims

In November 2020, speaking from Jantar Mantar and quoting from the Rig Veda, Yati called upon Hindus to become great by killing their enemies. He went on to explicitly name India’s Muslims as the enemies.

“Eat those who eat the cow,” he demanded. He ordered Hindus to stop behaving like eunuchs by not taking their own revenge but waiting for the police instead. “Buy the best weapons you can.” “Be ready to kill.” “We are in the midst of civil war with Muslims.” These were some of his constant messages.

In a different event later that month, he appealed to his dharam yoddhas to kill Muslims in the same way that the ISIS had killed the cartoonist in France (the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack). He commanded Hindus to fill the hearts of the ‘enemy’ with fear. Later, Ragini Tiwari, Yati’s disciple and a Hindutva leader, expressed her agreement with Yati and said, “The day we learn to cut up and murder, we will be safe.”

Tiwari’s association with Yati is not new. In 2018, after a protest against namaz in public spaces in Gurugram, Narsinghanand was arrested. Tiwari was one of the protestors who held a sit-in to demand Yati’s release.

Narsinghanand is a prominent part of a violent ecosystem of radical right-wing mobs. And his call to murder Muslims can be directly linked with actual episodes of anti-Muslim violence, especially the February 2020 riots in Delhi. From alleged weapons training and Islamophobic indoctrination camps to inspiring those who played a direct role in violence against Muslims, Narsinghand’s words are chilling.

Just one day before the Delhi violence started, he had called upon his “Hindu lions” to fight Muslims and end Islam from the root. He had said that there can be no “live and let live with Muslims” and that they must be finished off.

The Wire spent several months investigating Yati’s network. We managed to assemble several pieces of video evidence that link Narsinghanand to the anti-Muslim violence that took place in North-East Delhi last year.

Apart from Ragini Tiwari, at least one rioter – the RSS activist Ankit Tiwari, who The Wire featured in the first part of our investigation – had attended some of the events where Narsinghanand had spoken. He had been in the audience at the December 25, 2019, event at Jantar Mantar where Yati had called for violence against Muslims. Ankit Tiwari had posted a video of the same speech on his Facebook page.

Narsinghanand had also claimed that he had been the ground, making Hindus ready to ‘protect’ themselves during the 2013 communal riots in Muzaffarnagar.

Support for lone wolves

In December 2017, a Muslim labourer named Afrazul was hacked to death by Shambhu Lal Regar in Rajsamand district of Rajasthan. Narsinghanand was the first Hindutva leader to address a press conference glorifying Regar’s actions. He travelled to Rajasthan to extend support to Regar’s family. After this, a massive nationwide campaign was started for Shambhu Lal Regar and violence broke out.

Some months ago, Narsinghanand met and extended his support and praise to Rambhakt Gopal, the extremist Hindutva activist who had opened fire at Jamia students. “Whenever a Hindu displays such bravery, the so-called Hindu organisations distance themselves from him. We need to stand by men like Gopal who are fighting against jihad,” he said.

Before this, another disciple of Narsinghanand, Yati Krishnanand, had met Gopal and glorified his criminal acts.

Three weeks ago, a group of men vandalised a Sai Baba temple in Delhi’s Shahpur Jat. The main attacker, Padam Panwar, a south Delhi businessman, was reportedly inspired by Narsinghanand. Later, he also appeared in a video with Narsinghanand, who congratulated him for breaking the “jihadi’s idol” and said, “If I had my way, such jihadis would never be allowed in our temples”. Panwar has been booked by the Delhi police, but Narsinghanand remains untouched by the law.
Last month, a video of a 13-year-old Muslim boy being brutally assaulted for trespassing into a ‘prohibited’ Hindu temple, went viral. Later, Narsinghanand, who is the priest of the temple concerned, claimed that the boy was a jihadi and a thief who had entered the temple to defile the idols and harass Hindu women.

When the attacker, Shringi Yadav, the priest’s disciple and the temple’s IT cell chief was released, he claimed that the boy had urinated on Hindu idols. Narsinghanand said that the boy had received a befitting reply and that Shringi’s only fault had been to post the video online.

This journalist explored Shringi’s deleted account (Hindu Ekta Sanghh) and learned how Narsinghanand’s rhetoric had radicalised him. This was not the first time Shringi had assaulted a Muslim boy and posted the video online. In fact, there was a category of videos on his page called ‘Mullon ki kutai’ (Muslims being beaten).

A few months ago, a video of a Muslim man being beaten up by a priest in saffron attire went viral. In the video posted by one Ramraj Hindu, the frail Muslim man was being forced to shout ‘Jai Shri Ram’ while being brutally kicked and punched for walking with a Hindu girl. The girl could be heard pleading that the boy was a heart patient. The video has not been taken down by Facebook, nor has the assaulter been arrested. The Wire looked into the social media profile of the attacker and found him to be heavily influenced by Narsinghanand Saraswati. He shares Narsinghanand’s videos regularly and wants all Hindus to support him as their hero.

Last week, a video of a Hindu Raksha Dal worker Sukhdev Sahdev asking Hindus to weaken the Muslim community by honey trapping Muslim women went viral. He said, “If we want to make Muslims weak and helpless in India, we need to target their girls. They will become helpless on their own. And also grab their property. That’s the main goal.”

This led to huge outrage amongst Muslims. The Ghaziabad police have registered a complaint against Sahdev. Coincidentally, Narsinghanand’s picture was part of the banner of the event and Sukhdev is a close aide of Pinky Chaudhary, one of Narsinghanand’s most trusted men. The event was organised at M.K. restaurant in Ghaziabad by Nitin Chauhan, a local BJP worker and the leader of another Hindutva organisation.

Pinky Chaudhary

Right after Narsinghanand’s comments abusing the prophet went viral, he posted yet another video on his page with Pinky Chaudhary, leader of the Hindu Raksha Dal, which claimed the responsibility of an armed attack against the Jawaharlal Nehru University last February.

In the viral video released after the April 1 Press Club event, Chaudhary said, “We will tear apart the Quran and finish those who read it.” Later he lamented that all Indian Muslims should have been exterminated during partition and Yati strongly agreed. He threatened to not even spare the children. In another viral video released on April 8, a bounty of Rs 51 lakhs was placed by Pinky Chaudhary on Aam Aadmi Party MLA Amanatullah Khan’s head.

Pinky Chaudhary said he wants to rid India of Christianity and Islam. He described Christianity as slow poison and Islam as fast poison. He even boasted of burning Bibles and threatened to burn down a government school in Delhi’s Vivek Vihar for allegedly distributing Bibles. In one particular video of Narsinghanand calling for the extermination of all Indian Muslims, which has more than six crore views on Facebook, Pinky Chaudhary and Deepak Singh Hindu can be seen in the background.

Offline mobilisation

One week after Shringi Yadav beat up the Muslim boy, a congregation of thousands gathered at Dasna Devi temple, where several hate speeches and even open calls to murder Muslims were made. “Not a single gol topi (skull cap) will be visible in Ghaziabad,” the crowd chanted.

The call to assemble was made by Sudarshan TV, even though section 144 had been in place in the area. The mobilisation started after a rumour by Sudarshan TV that a local Muslim politician would invade the temple after the Friday namaz in Dasna. Over 5,000 Hindutva activists from across western UP reportedly gathered for the event. Consequently, several boards prohibiting the entry of Muslims in temples were erected outside temples in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand by the Hindu Yuva Vahini.

This was not the first time that Sudarshan TV had made such a call. Last year, it made calls to boycott Muslims economically and mobilised Hindutva protestors in Delhi, including several disciples of Narsinghanand such as Ragini Tiwari, at India Gate and even in areas affected by the riots despite the fact that section 144 had been in force.

The Wire reported how Narsinghanand’s aides made violent calls to murder Muslims at one of these protests. Sudarshan TV has also started a crowd funding campaign worth Rs 25 lakhs for Yati Narsinghanand.

Pooja Shakun

Three years ago, a woman in saffron attire shot an effigy of Mahatma Gandhi and raised slogans in support of his assassin, Nathuram Godse. The video went viral. The woman in the viral video is Pooja Shakun, a Hindu Mahasabha leader from Aligarh. No mainstream BJP Hindutva leaders supported her, but Narsinghanand jumped to the defense of his disciple. He also hailed Godse as his biggest hero and described Gandhi and Nehru as ‘traitors’ and ‘jihadis’.

Last month, after a minor Muslim boy was beaten up by Shringi Yadav, Pooja Shakun returned the favour to Narsinghanand. She brought hundreds of people to Dasna in his support and demanded that other temples put up boards prohibiting the entry of Muslims, like the board in Dasna.

Malik Sehrawat and Suresh Rajput

In a live video uploaded from the temple premises after Sudarshan TV’s call to assemble at Dasna, one Malik Sehrawat and his associates threatened to murder and evict Muslims from Dasna. He also abused Congress leader Alka Lamba and warned her to not enter UP. He was arrested after Alka Lamba filed a complaint.

This was not the first time that Sehrawat had threatened violence against minorities or a leader of the opposition. Earlier, Sehrawat and his aide Suresh, aka Hindu Sher Boy (with 4.6 lakh followers on YouTube) had uploaded a video in which they threatened to shoot Arvind Kejriwal and kill Muslims. Along with extremist Hindutva leader Ragini Tiwari, Suresh had also participated in a rally against ‘love jihad’ in Delhi, where they raised slogans like “Jab mulle kaate jayenge, tab Ram Ram chilayenge” (When Muslims are killed, we will shout Ram Ram) in the presence of the Delhi police.

Several hate speeches against Muslims were made at the event. A page called “Hindu Parivar” regularly broadcast live videos of such events. This page was unpublished by YouTube this month after it was found to be in severe violation of YouTube’s hate speech policy. The thumbnails of most of these incendiary videos were literally death threats.

After the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid called for Narsinghanand’s arrest in his Friday sermon last week, two of Narsinghanand’s disciples, Rahul Sharma and Suresh Rajput, went to Jama Masjid late at night and uploaded another inflammatory video from the gate of the mosque. In another video posted in April, Rahul threatened to break into Amanatullah Khan’s home and assault him. He even uploaded a video from a public toilet where he urinated on Amanatullah Khan’s picture and abused Muslims, even threatening a repeat of Godhra. After the video was reported, YouTube deleted the channel.

Aastha Maa

When a Bajrang Dal worker was murdered in Delhi’s Mangolpuri in February 2021, Hindutva leaders began to communalise the murder even though the Delhi police said there had been no communal angle. Aastha Maa and her supporters delivered hate speeches against Muslims in the area. Along with her supporters, she ransacked the house of the accused in the presence of the police and broadcasted it on her Facebook page. She even incited her followers to convert the house into a Hindu temple. She had been one of the attendees at the Dasna event on March 19, 2021, and has participated in many events with Narsinghanand.

Saroj Nath Yogi

Leader of the Hindu Samaj Party, Saroj Nath Yogi announced a bounty of Rs 51 lakhs on Amantullah Khan’s head while addressing a press conference in Lucknow on April 8, 2021. This call was published in a local newspaper and shared by a Hindutva YouTube channel. Saroj Nath’s announcement was also shared by Yati Narsinghanand, his guru, on Facebook. Last year, another video of Saroj Nath had gone viral. In this video, he had called for shooting the ‘jihadis’ spreading the coronavirus.

Yogi Saroj Nath claims to be working on creating a gurukul based on Narsinghanand’s principles to make India a Hindu nation.

Social media machinery

Alarmingly, Narsinghanand has millions of followers today. Facebook pages and groups are being created in his name every day. On one of the less well-known fan pages in his name, there are several videos of violence being committed against Muslims. In one video posted two years ago, a group of men can be seen abusing, kicking, punching and beating Muslim men with leather belts for alleged beef consumption.

While the mainstream pro-government media rarely covers these developments, an entire army of online pro-Hindutva media channels like Khabar India,Headlines India and News Views cover Yati’s speeches and make sure that he reaches millions of people. The subscriber bases of these channels run to millions. In several videos by these channels that went viral, there were explicit calls to attack dissenters and minorities. During the riots in Delhi, these YouTubers provoked the pro-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) mobs on the ground by referring to the anti-CAA protestors as Pakistanis.

Now with more support from the BJP IT cell and leaders of the BJP, the reach of Narsinghanand’s violent calls has increased exponentially.

Narsinghanand’s video against Mohammad has led to massive protests by Muslim groups across India. Kanpur, Bareilly, Hyderabad and Delhi witnessed huge protests. On the other hand, Hindutva groups are mobilising in Narsinghanand’s support. Since then, several death threat videos have been made against Narsinghanand as well. Some Muslim youth have been arrested for these videos. However, no action has been initiated against Narsinghanand and his associates.

In Yamunanagar on April 11, two groups of protestors got into a scuffle that the police stopped just in time. However, this massive escalation of hate speech and growing communal conflict is being ignored by the Uttar Pradesh administration, while BJP leaders like Kapil Mishra, who openly endorse and fund Narsinghanand’s dangerous mission, are adding fuel to an already volatile situation.

This story first appeared on  thewire.in