Monday, December 25, 2006

Indian Politics

I reproduce below a very interesting news report from the state of Gujarat in western India. Some explanations: the Bajrang Dal is a Hindu hooligan squad. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, World Hindu Council) is a fascist body funded by rootless non-resident Indians to spread religious hatred and bigotry and annihilate minorities. These bodies, together with the Hindu brown-shirt brigade known as the RSS and the BJP political party, are collectively known as the Sangh Parivar, i.e. organisation family.

At 19, Nilesh Lohar was a rising saffron star, leading Bajrang Dal assaults on churches and missionary schools in Gujarat’s Dangs district.

It’s partly because of his Muslim neighbours that eight years later, he is full of remorse.

“I wish I hadn’t done what I did. It was a criminal act. I did not realise it then. I was misled,” says the 27-year-old burly six-footer from Vyara, a town near Surat.

Lohar, who had become chief of the Bajrang Dal’s Vyara unit at 16, was the outfit’s Surat president when he was assigned the “mission” to attack Christian institutions in neighbouring Dangs in 1998.

Leading a core group of heavily indoctrinated youths, he put Dangs in international headlines, winning applause from Sangh parivar bigwigs like his mentor Praveen Togadia.

“I used to imitate Togadia (a Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader) so much that I came to be known as ‘Chhote (junior) Togadia’ in south Gujarat,” recalls Lohar, who underwent VHP training in firearms, martial arts and the use of the stone as a weapon.

It all changed with one incident about two years ago, when the Vyara municipality served notice saying Lohar Falia, the slum where Nilesh was born and brought up, was to be demolished to make room for a dental college.

As Lohar was a sangh parivar star, neighbours expected him to use his clout to save their homes. But his meetings with chief minister Narendra Modi and Togadia didn’t follow script.

“I was told they would not like to intervene as a sizeable population in Lohar Falia is Muslim. I was shocked,” Lohar recalls.

He approached rights activists Girish Patel and Mukul Sinha who petitioned the high court and got the demolition stayed.

Lohar resigned from the Bajrang Dal. His defection badly hurt the BJP in the municipal elections last year, annoying the sangh leadership.

“Some of them have threatened me, saying they would implicate me in false cases. Others have been decent and have tried to cajole me. But I told them I do not care any more. I’m my own man now.”

Lohar regrets his role in setting off communal clashes in neighbouring Bardoli town after a Muslim youth married a Hindu girl.

“I had been at the forefront, engineering trouble in the town. But today I feel I was just a pawn in the game.”

Lohar recently joined the Youth Congress as its Surat district vice-president and is tipped to become a state-level office-bearer. He says he feels at home in his new organisation. “The Congress, unlike the sangh parivar, does not discriminate.”

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