Delhi Violence Unmasked | Part Three

How BJP and its youth wing BJYM used the Delhi elections to mobilise Hindutva mobs

Members of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha—BJP’s youth wing—hold placards as they shout slogans during a bike rally in favour of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act on 12 January 2020. In the weeks ahead of Delhi’s elections, on 8 February that year, the BJP deployed its cadre to galvanise support among the local Hindu population by stirring them against the anti-CAA protests. NARINDER NANU/AFP /Getty Images
Members of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha—BJP’s youth wing—hold placards as they shout slogans during a bike rally in favour of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act on 12 January 2020. In the weeks ahead of Delhi’s elections, on 8 February that year, the BJP deployed its cadre to galvanise support among the local Hindu population by stirring them against the anti-CAA protests. NARINDER NANU/AFP /Getty Images
01 March, 2021

In a six-month-long investigation, Sagar, a staff-writer at The Caravan, scrutinised Facebook live broadcasts by members affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of the Delhi violence of February 2020. In this series based on the investigation, The Caravan reports on the Hindutva mobilisation that preceded the violence, its political and communal nature, and the role played by the RSS, BJP and affiliated organisations such as the Bajrang Dal in fomenting hate against those protesting the Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2019.

Although the situation on the ground reached a flashpoint only on 23 February, the BJP’s political mobilisation around the CAA had begun weeks earlier, as a central theme of the party’s Delhi election campaign. The national capital went to polls on 8 February 2020, and in the days and weeks ahead of it, the BJP had deployed a large number of its cadre to galvanise support among the local Hindu population by stirring them against the anti-CAA protests.

Anupam Pandey, the president of the BJP’s Sonia Vihar mandal—a ward in northeast Delhi—had actively campaigned on the CAA issue for the party. On 31 December 2019, Pandey addressed a rally in which he called the anti-CAA protestors “deshdrohis”—anti-nationals. In a livestream of the rally posted by one of his subordinates, Pandey can be heard telling the crowd, “I want to tell you something: if there is anyone who talks for Hindus it is only the BJP … If the next chief minister is from BJP, then these traitors who are sitting on roads, the ones burning buses, we would at least get rid of them.”

Kusum Tomar, a BJP councilor from northeast Delhi’s Babarpur ward, was similarly no stranger to the polarising narrative of CAA mobilisation. On 30 January, while campaigning for Naresh Gaur, the BJP’s candidate for Babarpur assembly, Tomar told the crowd, “Aur jab button dabao, toh aisi aawaz aana chahiye ki jaise kisi deshdrohi ka gala daba diya hai”—When you cast your vote, it should sound like you’ve strangled a traitor. Tomar, like Chatak, is associated with Yuva Hindu Sangh, which had organised Hanuman Chalisa events at the Maujpur temple in the months before the violence.

Tomar told me she went to Maujpur only because everyone else from her party was there, and denied inciting the mob. “Sab the wahan par toh hum bhi chalen gayen, aisa toh kuch nahi hai”—Everyone was there so I also went, there’s nothing beyond that. When I confronted her with videos of her provocative statements, she questioned my intention. “How come you are remembering about anti-CAA protests now?” she asked. Before hanging up, she sought to shrug off her comments about strangling protesters as a campaign speech. “These are things that everyone says during an election campaign,” Tomar said. “I might have spoken something like that too. I although don’t remember if I said that exactly.” 

On 23 February, Tomar stood with her party leader Kapil Mishra as he made his now-infamous speech calling upon the police to clear the Jafrabad road, failing which the BJP leader threatened to take matters out of the police’s hands. With them, stood another BJP election candidate, Kaushal Mishra, who lost from the Seelampur assembly constituency. Kaushal and Kapil, who stood from the Model Town constituency, had both sought to garner votes by resorting to polarising rhetoric during their election campaigns. Both ultimately lost, though Kapil managed to secure 41 percent of the votes, and Kaushal received 27 percent.

On 4 February, during one of his election campaigns, Kaushal told his audience, “Humara muqabala desh virodhi mansikta walon se hai”—Our fight is against those with an anti-national mentality. Kaushal then promised the crowd that if elected, he would remove all the anti-CAA protesters from the roads. “The way disturbance is being spread in Seelampur, you must make BJP win to reestablish peace,” he said. “I promise you if I’ve your support, no individual with an anti-national mentality could ever do a protest or demonstration here.” When asked about his comments, Kaushal neither denied nor addressed it. “Jo hua, so hua, aapke saamne hi hai sab kuch”—What’s happened has happened, everything is in front of you only. On his request, I emailed other questions to him, but he had not replied by the time of publication. Kaushal was appointed the president of BJP’s Purvanchal Morcha after the reshuffle in late 2020.

Kapil seemed to be the main attraction for many of the people who assembled at Maujpur. Many BJYM members told me they went because of Kapil, and livestreams showed BJYM members clamouring to be seen around him take selfies with him. The mainstream media, too, lined up to interview Kapil, the livestreams revealed. Yet, by all indications, Kapil’s presence at Maujpur was first and foremost an effort to mobilise Hindus against the anti-CAA protesters, and it was not his first effort to do so.

From December to February, he ran hateful campaigns against anti-CAA protestors through his election rallies, marches and social media posts. On 19 December 2019, Kapil led a march in central Delhi’s Connaught Place shouting, “Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro salon ko!” In a livestream of another rally five days later, in Karawal Nagar, Kapil rebuked the public for not resisting the anti-CAA protests, while polarising the electorate on communal lines. “Is your conscience dead?” he asked. “Will your eyes open up when the fire has reached your homes?” He then addressed the anti-CAA protestors: “Don’t mistake Karawal Nagar for Seelampur or Jamia … From here on, if a crowd gives any slogans, then it will get the answer in a language, which we have learnt from our parents.”

The free hand to campaign on these polarising lines clearly seeped down the ranks within the party. In a video uploaded on Facebook on 2 February, Sumit Nagar, a treasurer with the BJP’s Maujpur mandal, campaigned for Kaushal by asking the Hindu residents of Seelampur to vote in line with their religious identity. “It’s a matter of shame that we have to say we live in Seelampur assembly,” Nagar said. “The constituency from where a Hindu candidate is never elected. Why is a Hindu not elected? Because, 70 percent Muslims live here. I don’t have enmity with Muslims. All I want to tell you, my Hindu brothers, is to vote for a servant of Modiji, so that you can tell your families tomorrow where you come from with your chest puffed up.” He continued, “If they can unite, they can shout slogans, you should speak with me with your fists raised, ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai, Jai Shree Ram!’”

Manoj Kashyap, who was BJP’s candidate in the Uttar Pradesh elections from the Shahjahanpur constituency, was among those fielded by the party to campaign in Delhi. On 21 January, Kashyap posted a video of his interaction with Bajrang Dal and BJYM members from Sonia Vihar. In the video, he equated Modi with Rana Pratap, a sixteenth-century Rajput king celebrated by Hindu nationalists for his resistance to the Mughal Empire. Kashyap instructed his audience to think of themselves as Rana Pratap’s warriors, ready to challenge the anti-CAA protesters, whom he likened to the Mughals.

“It’s not an opposition to CAA,” Kasyhap said. “It’s an opposition to the soldiers of mother India.” Referring to the three seats that the BJP had won in the previous assembly elections in Delhi, Kashyap added, “Would Delhi’s patriotic youths be seeing all these? To imagine that BJP could be restricted to three seats is shameful. It describes our impotency. Delhi’s youth has to wake up … Akbar couldn’t have been stopped if not for Maharana Pratap.”

Kashyap posted another video the next day, and started his speech with the story of Hanuman, who burnt the kingdom of Lanka for his master, the deity Ram, according to Hindu mythology. Kashyap then appeared to equate the anti-CAA protestors with the residents of Lanka, and imply that they deserved the same fate. Referring to the protests, Kashyap said, “When such situation is being created this way, the true sons of India must stand up.” He continued, “The brave men of India have to stand. The patriotic warriors of India have to stand. The ones who can protect their mothers and sisters can certainly be ready like Hanuman to burn somebody else’s Lanka.” Kashyap died in September after showing symptoms of coronavirus, according a family member.

Shreydeep Kaushik, who was the BJYM’s Dilshad Garden mandal president at that time, was among those who ran provocative campaign rallies. Shreydeep led two rallies, on 12 and 29 January, and the livestreams for both were marked by the conspicuous absence of speech or discussion about the CAA. In both, Shreydeep and his BJYM team chanted slogans taunting the anti-CAA protesters “azadi” rally cry by referring to individuals killed by the Indian state. “Le lo azadi! Burhan Wani ko de di, azadi! Afzal ko de di, azadi!” (Come take your freedom! We gave it to Burhan Wani! We gave it to Afzal!) Shreydeep admitted to me that he had tried to create an “atmosphere” in favor of the CAA through his videos. He believed it was “required to fix India’s image.”

Earlier that month, on 7 January, Shreydeep posted a video recording of a BJP district-level meeting about the Delhi elections on his Facebook page. He had recorded the meeting from behind the person who appeared to be chairing it. At one point, the chairperson said, “We recently have had a three-day door-to-door campaign in support of CAA. It ran very successfully in Dilshad Garden and Sundarnagari. But it couldn’t become an enthusiastic one. It is my request to all the mandal workers to call up your presidents in your respective jurisdictions and ask them where to assemble.” Shreydeep added, “The elections will be fought on these issues only.”

In the video’s caption, Shreydeep wrote that the meeting was chaired by Veer Singh Panwar, a BJP municipal councilor. At the time, Panwar was the election in-charge over the Seemapuri constituency. Panwar told me he did not remember whether he had chaired that meeting, but acknowledged that mobilising people on the CAA was a part of BJP’s election agenda. “The strategy was to inform people,” he added. “There were programmes to make people aware those days. Because the way those people and their grandmothers sat”—he said, referring to the anti-CAA protesters—“it was only a matter of informing them that the CAA was in their favor.”

Four days later, Mani Bansal, who was then the president of the northeast district unit of BJP’s women’s wing, Mahila Morcha, carried out a door-to-door campaign in support of CAA in the northeast district. She distributed pamphlets, which featured Modi and Shah and celebrated the passing of the “historic” law, among local shopkeepers and residents.

On 25 February, Bansal posted on Facebook to express her gratitude to another local BJP municipal councillor Pramod Gupta for his “bravery” in the previous days. Gupta—a Baniya, like Bansal—was among the BJP leaders who had mobilised support for the CAA by invoking his Hindu identity. On 1 February, Gupta told his electorate in Yamuna Vihar that the Delhi elections would determine “the kind of people who will be allowed to live in the country.” He added, “Kya hamara khoon khaulta nahi hai, jab es Dilli ki bhoomi par khade hokar ye gaddar, kehte hain, ki bharat tere tukde honge”—Does our blood not boil when people stand on Delhi’s soil and say that they will destroy this nation into pieces?

“This election is an election of an ideology,” he continued. “It’s about choosing leaders who will decide which people with what kind of ideology will live in this country, how they will live, how they will breathe in the country, and what kind of slogans they will raise on the road.” Gupta did not respond to multiple calls and messages.

Most of the individuals who mobilised people at Maujpur square before the riots belonged to the BJP’s youth wing, the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha. The BJYM’s website notes that it was formed in 1978, and that after the reorganisation of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh into the BJP two years later, the BJYM assumed its current form as the party’s youth wing. Its current national president is Tejasvi Surya, the member of parliament from Bengaluru South.

Nitin Pandit, who was then a vice president of the BJYM’s Naveen Shahdara mandal, told me that him and others from the youth wing had come to Maujpur on the instructions of his seniors from the BJP. Nitin’s livestream on 24 February showed him seated next to the BJP’s Anupam Pandey, at Maujpur. He further told me, “Our district leader from the BJP, Priyank Jain ji, he had asked me to come. So I came and stood for two minutes or five minutes and then left.” Pandit added that he did not know what was going on at Maujpur, and that he had only gone “on behalf of the Bharatiya Janata Party.”

Others, too, said that they had gone to Maujpur simply on the BJP’s directions. Om Choudhary, who was the general secretary of the BJP’s Subhash Mohalla mandal at the time, told me, “Brother, all I knew then was that some of our leaders were sitting there so I also went there because I happened to pass by.” In a livestream posted at 3.44 pm on 23 February, Choudhary told his viewers, “In support of CAA, thousands of people have come on the roads today.”

He claimed that he and his colleagues had gone to Maujpur only to convince anti-CAA protesters, and yet, in all the livestreams by members of the Maujpur crowd—including Choudhary’s—nobody spoke about the benefits of the law. They were either appealing to the public to come out and show their Hindu solidarity, or shouting violent slogans against Muslims. “It was just that these people were sitting for one and half months,” Choudhary said, when I questioned his claim. “And some of our leaders had started saying that, if they don’t leave, we will sit on our own protest. That’s it.” Choudhary is now the media in-charge of the BJP’s New Shahadara unit.

Given the role played by the BJYM ahead of the Delhi violence, it is important to understand the organisation’s foundational philosophy, and how a culture of mobilised violence was inculcated among its cadre. Ramlal, an RSS pracharak—full-time worker—who served as the BJP’s general secretary (organisation) for 13 years, had explained the vision behind the BJYM at the youth wing’s national executive meeting on 5 March 2016. His speech indicated that the BJYM was envisioned as an institution that could mobilise a youth army in any part of the country within minutes. Ramlal had said that BJYM needed to create a “brigade of 10 youths at every booth.” These individuals, he said, should not only be used for “election machinery,” but additionally be trained to become “vigilant nationalists.”

Ramlal set a target of three years within which he demanded a youth army having “a nationalist thinking” in “every street, village, ward and booth.” The general secretary also gave the BJYM leaders targets for the number of youths to be prepared at each level. For a small village, Ramlal fixed a contingent of a 100 people, for a city, he prescribed 500, and for bigger cities “such as Delhi and Mumbai,” he demanded “five to ten thousand.” Ramlal also asked the chiefs of every hierarchal unit—from ward to district to state—to conduct “a trial” run of mobilisation to see if the men would really show up on being summoned.

“I want that the BJYM state presidents to make an emergency call with just one–two hours’ notice,” Ramlal said at the national executive meeting. “On such a call, every BJYM worker must assemble within two hours. The youth wing must have such a strength that that whenever it receives a call—whether it’s from the centre, from the state, from a district, from a ward, or from a house—the workers should show up in large numbers.”

The communal violence witnessed in the national capital in February 2020 would suggest that Ramlal’s vision has been fulfilled.

This is part three of Sagar’s investigation into the Hindutva mobilisation ahead of the Delhi violence. Read part one here and part two here.