Congratulating a man for allegedly vandalising a Sai Baba idol, derogatory remarks at Prophet Muhammad, his disciple thrashing a Muslim boy for entering the Dasna Devi Mandir to drink water – Hindutva leader Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati’s name has been cropping up in one controvery after another for the past few weeks.
In a recent contoversy, Saraswati can be seen in a video congratulating Padam Panwar, the man who orchestrated the ‘demolition’ of a Sai Baba idol at a temple in Delhi’s Shahpur Jat. Panwar, in the video, can be heard saying that Sai Baba was no ‘God’ as he died in 1918 and was a Muslim ‘jihadi’.
Earlier on Saturday, 3 April, the Delhi Police registered an FIR against Saraswati for hurting religious sentiments after he allegedly abused and made derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad during an event at Delhi’s Press Club.
Saraswati has been in the headlines ever since his disciple Shringi Yadav was reportedly recorded on video thrashing a 14-year-old Muslim boy on 11 March. Yadav had thrashed the kid for entering the Dasna Devi Mandir in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, to drink water.
Since Saraswati became the temple priest, a board has been put up outside the premises, stating, “Ye mandir Hinduon ka pavitra sthal hai. Yahan Musalmano ka pravesh varjit hai (This temple is a holy place for Hindus. Entry of Muslims is strictly prohibited).”
Here’s a look at Saraswati’s societal and political influence and his controversies:
Saraswati’s Ties to BJP
On a number of occasions, Saraswati’s name has come up in connection with raising of communal tensions in western Uttar Pradesh, including in areas adjoining Delhi.
The chief priest of Devi Mandir at Dasna, Saraswati, has also been the leader of a Hindutva organisation, Hindu Swabhiman and president of the Akhil Bharatiya Sant Parishad.
Hindu Swabhiman, and affiliate Dharam Sena have been known to give arms training to Hindu youth and children.
Saraswati’s close ties to ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and leader Kapil Mishra, as well as his technology savvy, active presence on the internet has found him many ardent followers, including Yadav. Saraswati has identified BJP leaders Baikunth Lal Sharma ‘Prem’ and BP Singhal as his mentors.
He has also hailed UP CM Yogi Adityanath as a “karmayogi” who has “saved Uttar Pradesh from an Islamic onslaught,” and openly praised Union Home Minister Amit Shah and credits him with the pro-Hindutva policies of the second Narendra Modi government.
Calls For Genocide
The central narrative in Saraswati’s utterances has been that Hindus are under an existential threat from Islam and Muslims, and that they need to fight as well as procreate in order to survive.
Saraswati has been calling for a “final war against Muslims” and has propounded that “Islam must be removed to save humanity”.
Saraswati had allegedly made several genocidal comments a day before the 23 February communal riots in northeast Delhi, such as “Humanity can be saved only if we finish off Islam” and “If we don’t remove an evil like Islam from society, how will we survive?”
These statements were released mainly through videos posted on his official YouTube channel ‘Narsingh Vani’ and a few were in the form of interviews on major TV networks like Aaj Tak, allowing him to spread his 'war cry against Muslims’ to lakhs of people.
Citizens for Justice and Peace, a non-profit, wrote a letter to Information Technology Ministry and the Ministry of Minority Affairs, asking them to stop the broadcast of episodes which encourage anti-Muslim hatred, reported The Wire.
Not An Isolated Incident
In 2017, a video of gunshots being fired at the Dasna Devi temple went viral, exposing how people were being trained in the use of guns at the temple. On being asked if the guns being used are legal, Saraswati’s response was, “License? When the war with ISIS begins, these laws won’t make a difference.”
In a documentary by The Quint in 2015, Hindu Swabhiman functionary Chetna Sharma – also known as Yati Maa Chetnanand – could be seen telling a child that he needs to learn how to use weapons to “fight Muslims who are exploiting Hindu women.”
Though the recent incident involving the 14-year-old has garnered headlines, it is one amongst many such incidents of intolerance against those of the Muslim faith, that have been on the rise in several Indian states.
Cases of lynching have also been prevalent in Uttar Pradesh, and several BJP-led states have passed ‘anti-Love Jihad’ laws, that have been heavily criticised for being used as ‘tools to target Muslims’ amid growing pro-Hindutva sentiments.
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