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Who helped Dhananjay Desai spread his poison?

June 16, 2014 20:39 IST

Dhananjay DesaiDhananjay Desai has been allowed to spread his poison to young men in Maharashtra and Goa over the last five years, by a 'secular' Congress-NCP government.

The 23 cases pending against him have not stopped him. He and his supporters must have thought they were immune when they lynched a bearded Muslim at night. Neither Desai nor his followers, nor the police, nor their 'secular' political masters, must have expected the nationwide furore that followed, says Jyoti Punwani.

The Maharashtra police are at it again. They have linked the Pune murder of Mohsin Shaikh by Hindu Rashtra Sena goons to the actions of Muslims from the Nationalist Congress Party. The 'Hindu backlash' theory is at work again.

Shaikh's murder was a pure and simple hate crime, one would have thought. But not so for the Maharashtra police, who believe in the theory of 'action-reaction'. All Hindutvawadis describe their violence as 'defensive' or a 'reaction' to violence by Muslims. The latter are always the initiators -- this is an article of faith for Hindutvawadis. And the reaction is always bound to be more than the action, since Hindus are the majority -- this was explained to me by the late Adhik Shirodkar, the Shiv Sena's senior counsel before the Srikrishna Commission of inquiry into the 1992-1993 Mumbai riots.

So here's the Pune police's explanation for Shaikh's lynching. First, came the Facebook post derogatory to Shivaji and Bal Thackeray. This was followed by stoning of mosques by offended Hindutva activists. The Congress led a delegation of affected Muslims to complain about the stoning.

According to the Pune police, this closed the matter -- the situation was 'under control'.

But the Congress initiative left the NCP feeling left out, say the police. (What else can you expect from the 'competitive vote-bank politics' of the 'secular' parties, is what's left unsaid.) So, the NCP's Muslims decided to stone a Shivaji statue.

Now, in the peaceful atmosphere that had by then descended on Pune, say the cops, this was a direct provocation to the Hindu Rashtra Sena guys who were then zipping around on motorcycles distributing offensive leaflets. So they killed Mohsin Shaikh.

Hence, both the stoning of the mosques and the lynching of Shaikh was part of a 'Hindu backlash' to Muslim provocation (though the identity of the originator of the FB post is still unknown).

The Srikrishna Commission demolished this 'backlash' theory put forward by the Mumbai police and the Shiv Sena to justify the January 1993 Sena-led pogrom against Muslims. You don't need a judicial commission to demolish the Pune 'backlash' theory. Eye-witness accounts from the very first night of violence, May 30, show that the police chose to ignore the vandalism of the Hindutva goons.

Aurangabad resident Natasha Zarine told this reporter how she and others sat terrified in their vehicles for 40 minutes at Lonikhand on the Pune-Aurangabad road as goons stoned and smashed the windshields and windows of vehicles. A police van drove through while this was on, without stopping. For 12 km ahead, right up to Shikrapur, the road was lined with shattered glass.

The next day, Sunday, Muslim-owned establishments and Muslim hawkers were attacked in Aurangabad, and mosques were vandalised in Pune. In Aurangabad, the vandals were arrested and the situation brought under control; in Pune, not much seemed to have been done. For by the cops' own reconstruction of events, on Monday, Hindu Rashta Sena goons were out on their motorcycles distributing inflammatory pamphlets.

When you start taking this 'action-reaction' theory to its logical end, some questions arise. Even before Shivaji's statue was stoned, Hindu Rashtra Sena members were distributing offensive leaflets. Were they still reacting, on the night of June 1, to the offensive FB post? Or were they just following the exhortations of their leader, Dhananjay Desai, now an accused in Shaikh's murder?

Desai's speeches are on the Internet, uploaded by his followers. From 2010 to 2013, he has told the latter to hunt out modern day Afzal Khans and do to them what his idol Shivaji did to the original. In one speech (on Shiv Jayanti, March 12, 2010), he even declares that every youngster 'who kills an Afzal Khan should be given a Bharat Ratna'.

Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders have often shared the dais with Desai when he has made these speeches.

Desai lists Bal Thackeray in a long line of inspiring leaders -- Guru Gobind Singh, Rana Pratap, Shivaji. But he goes beyond Thackeray in his tirades against Muslims. The Shiv Sena chief, at least in his editorials in Saamna, would exempt 'patriotic' Muslims from his rants. This distinction got him a clean chit from the Bombay high court for his inflammatory writings during the Mumbai riots.

Dhananjay Desai tars all Muslims with the same brush. Be it Ajmal Kasab, Afzal Guru, Abu Asim Azmi (and his voters), leaders of the Raza Academy, or the products of Aligarh Muslim University, they are all basically the same, he declares -- jihadis and terrorists.

Secondly, for Desai, there's nothing like a good Muslim, for it is Islam that is at the root of their behaviour.

In one speech, Desai recounts how sometimes Hindus tell him that they have no problem with Muslims. 'In our neighbourhood, there are just a few, and they're all gentlemanly' -- that's what these Hindus say, recounts Desai. Then he goes on to say: 'It's because they are few that they are gentlemanly. Go to Bhiwandi, Malegaon, Mumbra to see how they behave when they are in a majority.'

Like Thackeray, Desai pours vitriol on 'secular' politicians. Despite the Bhiwandi killing, R R Patil, Maharashtra's home minister, went to an iftaar party in Bhiwandi. Politicians such as these behave the way they do, according to Desai, because they are the descendants of the 'impure' unions between Muslim rulers and Hindu women. 'So we know who these politicians' fathers are,' says Desai.

Purity of descent, 'vansh' and 'pind' are obsessions for Desai. He calls himself a noble Maratha, part of the elite 'shahanavkuli' (96 families). For him, Maharashtra is the land of the brave, patriotic descendants of Shivaji. Yet, paradoxically, he vehemently exhorts his followers to forget their caste, language and region and identify themselves only as Hindus, for they need to build a Hindu rashtra.

'Say Jai Maharashtra,' he says, but don't forget to say 'Jai Hindu Rashtra', the phrase with which he ends all his speeches. He rants against Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, the Maratha Mahasangh and the Sambhaji Brigade, as agents set up under an international jihadi conspiracy created to divide Hindus.

Like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Desai shows little respect for the national flag. The tiranga he says, is the administrative flag, but the saffron flag (bhagwa) is the true national flag. Its very sight sends shivers down the spine of 'green traitors', he says.

Again, like the RSS, Desai is obsessed with the honour of Hindu women, and constantly refers to it being under threat from Muslims through love jihad. (In Pune, a rumour was spread that Hindu girls had been raped by Muslims. This was done during the Malegaon riots in 2001 too.)

Desai's attitude towards women is typically feudal and patriarchal: Either they are mothers and sisters, or they are rakhails and prostitutes. His language, like Thackeray's, is vulgar to the extreme.

Thackeray never shied away from taking credit for the violence of his followers, including for the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Nor does Desai. Citing the 2007 'breaking news' story on Star News about a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy seeking protection from their families, Desai recounts how 500 of his boys went to the Star News office and put a stop to it.

Like Bal Thackeray, Desai openly declares his aim. Thackeray described Saamna's role during the Mumbai riots as having 'prepared a burning generation... Saamna's job is to keep this generation smouldering. Every word of Saamna was like a flame.'

Desai declares his aim as creating 'aakrosh' or rage against the existing system so that it can be converted to a Hindu rashtra. To do that, to keep the 'batteries recharged', he says he doesn't mind celebrating Shiv Jayanti every three months.

The police did file cases against Bal Thackeray under Sec 153 A (promoting communal enmity), but either the Congress government did not give them the sanction to prosecute him, or they were withdrawn by his own government, leaving just two cases pending against him which were dismissed for reasons of delay in prosecution.

Desai has 23 cases against him; in his speeches, he describes police notices to him as so much raddi (waste paper).

Why don't the police follow up on their notices? The question is: Can they, given the deep ideological and emotional bond between the Maharashtra police and Hindutvawaadis? The Madon Commission in the 1970s and the Srikrishna Commission 20 years later showed that the Maharashtra police themselves believe that Muslims are traitors whose rightful place is in Pakistan.

Both Bal Thackeray and Desai use the same ploy of heaping praise on policemen and abuse on politicians who prevent them from doing their duty of annihilating traitors. Desai lauds the cops who killed Khwaja Yunus (a Ghatkopar blast accused, allegedly killed in a fake encounter in 2003). Had Ajmal Kasab been guarded by Maharashtra police, they would have killed him, he says. That is why the Indo-Tibetan Border Patrol was brought to protect him.

This is the kind of poison Dhananjay Desai has been allowed to spread to young men in Maharashtra and Goa over the last five years, by a 'secular' Congress-NCP government. The 23 cases pending against him have not stopped him. The message these young men have received is clear -- you can flout the law and get away with it; indeed, it is your patriotic and religious duty to do so.

This is what they must have thought when they lynched a bearded Muslim that night. Neither Desai nor his followers, nor the police, nor their 'secular' political masters, must have expected the nationwide furore that followed.

Will this furore be kept alive to ensure that both leader and followers are kept behind bars till their trial?

Will the trial be completed before the probable change of guard in November?

It is up to us to ensure that this is done.

Image: Dhananjay Desai, an accused in the Mohsin Shaikh murder.

Jyoti Punwani