New Delhi: In the last week of February 2020, 53 people were killed in Delhi in violence that lasted four days.
Even though three-quarters of those killed were Muslims and most of the worst property damage was sustained by Muslims, BJP leaders describe what happened as an ‘anti-Hindu riot’. And the Delhi Police have also helped in this cover up, alleging a conspiracy to trigger violence by Muslim and progressive activists involved in the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
In Part One of our investigation into the conspiracy the police has ignored, we examined the role of two Hindutva activists, Deepak Singh Hindu and Ankit Tiwari. Today, we will focus on Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati and his associates whose hate speeches and incitement played a crucial role in radicalising the rioters who eventually unleashed a bloodbath in North East Delhi in February 2020.
It is now clear that the relentless call for violence against Muslims in the run up to the riots was not abstract advocacy but an essential component of the real conspiracy – executed in the open because they knew the police would never touch them.
Godman from Ghaziabad
Yati Narsinghanand is a militant Hindutva leader with his headquarters in Dasna in Ghaziabad, where Uttar Pradesh meets Delhi. His influence in Delhi’s overground and subterranean Hindutva networks has grown exponentially because of his association with top leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party like Kapil Mishra – and his willingness to say bluntly and openly what mainstream Hindutva politicians baulk from saying about Muslims.
For example, two months before the Delhi riots, Narsinghanand described Muslims as rakshasas, or demons:
“Those we call Muslims in our current era were called demons in earlier eras”
Narsinghanand is also a self-confessed admirer of Gandhi’s assassin, Nathuram Godse:
“We cannot find words enough to praise Nathuram Godse ji. I consider Veera Savarkar ji and Nathuram Godse ji as my biggest heroes.”
Narsinghanand’s calls for violence against Muslims actually predate the CAA and the protests against it. Right after a militant Hindutva leader Kamlesh Tiwari was stabbed dead in Lucknow in October 2019, he threatened all Muslims with violence and said that he would eradicate Islam from India:
“Muslims around the world are celebrating because a Hindu lion has been killed and all our homes are in mourning. I am telling every one of those bastards, telling the Muslims, if I don’t make you mourn the way Kamlesh Tiwari’s house is mourning today, then I am not my father’s son. As long as I am alive I will use weapons. I am telling each and every Muslim, we will eradicate Islam from the country one day.”
The man in the white shirt and moustache standing to Yati’s left is Pinki Chaudhary of the Hindu Raksha Dal. In January 2020, he posted a video claiming responsibility for a violent attack on students at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
And the man in the grey shirt and orange scarf is Deepak Singh Hindu, the Hindutva leader who went on to post a video on the morning of February 23, 2020, calling for mobs to assemble at Maujpur chowk in Delhi at 2:30 that day. The Delhi riots started soon after.
Six weeks later, in a speech he delivered on December 4, 2019, Narsinghanand expanded on his usual theme of Hindus having lost the will to fight Muslims. He lamented the fact that riots had not taken place of late, blaming this on the failure of Hindus to take to the streets with weapons:
“Today, many Hindus tell me, Maharaj, there are no riots happening anywhere. Why aren’t there riots? Because the issues which used to bring Hindus on to the streets with weapons earlier, no Hindu has the courage to even raise his voice about those issues. I don’t know what use our organisations are. Big or small, we are not prepared to fight for our brothers, not even prepared to speak for our brothers. While not a day goes by in India when some Muslim cuts the throat of a Hindu.”
Yati’s public utterances in and around Delhi in the weeks and months before the February 2020 riots were clearly aimed at remedying what he saw as this weakness. And his stated aim was to bring Hindus on to the streets with weapons so that there would be a riot in which Muslims would be taught a lesson.
What gave Narsinghanand’s propaganda added edge was his use of social media and video. He was and remains a regular studio commentator on the panels of leading Hindi news channels like News Nation, Sudarshan TV and AajTak, and is a hero for a number of militant Hindutva networks on YouTube who make sure his calls for violence reach lakhs of people.
His speeches in December 2019 and then January and February 2020 easily qualify as hate speech. But seen against the backdrop of the anti-Muslim violence which eventually took place, it is clear that his speeches were an important tool for radicalising and mobilising hundreds and thousands of people to commit violence. Which is why it is strange that the police would not regard Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati as a key conspirator in the riots.
We know that the riots started as an assault on those protesting the CAA at Jafrabad and then quickly morphed into vicious attacks on Muslim lives and property in northeast Delhi that lasted three days.
In the wake of the Shaheen Bagh protest by Muslim women against the CAA, which started on December 14, 2019, Yati was an active participant in meetings and demonstrations held in support of the CAA. The aim of these events was to ridicule the Muslim protesters, demonise them as enemies of the Hindus and work towards forcibly ending their protest. And the record shows how his rhetoric – including the call for violence – gradually escalated from December 2019 to February 22, 2020, the day before the violence started.
If the Delhi Police wanted, they could easily assemble a full dossier of video evidence against Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati far deadlier than the tame speeches from anti-CAA activists which feature in the official chargesheet. In the case of Umar Khalid and the others, the police have found no speeches advocating violence, no speeches inciting hatred against any religion, and no evidence of them associating with any individual linked to the violence.
Yati Narsinghanand checks all those boxes. Yet there is no case against him.
Weeks of pure poison
Had the intelligence agencies been monitoring the inflammatory and violent rhetoric of the pro-CAA camp, they might have nipped the violence which followed in the bud. Instead, the police turned a blind eye to this buildup which was taking place on the streets and on YouTube. On December 22, 2019, he said in Jantar Mantar in Delhi:
“The CAA is not against Muslims but against traitors. They thought they can increase their population and capture the country. But Modi ji and Amit Shah have brought this law and smashed their dream. I urge them not to step back but go forward with NRC, uniform civil code and then a population control law.”
On December 25, 2019, a rally in support of the CAA was held at Jantar Mantar by Updesh Rana, founder of the extremist Vishwa Sanatan Sangh. Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati was a star speaker. By now, his rhetoric had already climbed several notches. Amit Shah may have insisted that the CAA had nothing to do with Indian Muslims but for Yati, the CAA was the first step towards controlling the population of Indian Muslims. And at Jantar Mantar he also said for the first time that Hindus would have to come on to the streets to teach a lesson to the Muslims who were protesting the CAA:
“I appeal to all you young people, these Muslims who keep coming out [on the streets], they should find out what will happen to them the day we come out. And I would like to tell Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, please don’t worry, we are all with you. You have brought the CAA, now bring the National Register of Citizens and after that put a stop to the population of the ‘katuon’. If these swine increase their numbers, they will spread filth, so to save this country from filth and dirt, please bring a law to stop their population, we will support you.”
Narsinghanand uses abusive terms like ‘sooar’ and ‘katuon’ for Muslims and then calls for their eyes to be gouged out:
“And all of you, you fighters for dharma, each one of you tigers is more than enough for 125,000 pigs (cheers). And if [the Muslims] are seeing dreams of taking over India, then tell them that we will gouge their eyes out.”
Narsinghanand’s rhetoric in this period is suffused with the idea that a final battle and final solution is approaching. He says on December 25, 2019, eight weeks before the riots:
“I am once again appealing to Hindus, today the time has come, if even today we don’t stand up then we won’t survive. I want to tell Hindus that this is the final battle, if you lose this battle then nothing will remain.”
However, Yati Narsinghanand had lots more to say that day. After finishing his provocative speech, he gave interviews to several Hindutva YouTube channels where he kept up his fierce rhetoric. A report from one of these channels, ‘Hindu Publisher’, asked Yati for his comments on the people who he said were opposing the CAA and ‘burning the country’.
“These people are enemies of the country, they should be put in jail. And if they do not reform after being jailed, they should be sentenced to death.”
The ‘Hindu Publisher’ channel reporter then asks Yati who these people are who want India to open its doors to Muslim refugees from Bangladesh and Pakistan. Narsinghanand’s answer is shocking: He describes India’s Muslims as jihadis who are out to destroy Hindus and India, and says finishing off such people from their roots should be the basic religious duty of Hindus:
“These people are jihadis who want to spread filth in the country, these are jihadis who want to destroy the country, these are jihadis who want to take over our resources, these are jihadis who want to kill us all, these are jihadis who want to make prostitutes of our sisters and daughters. Such people have to be destroyed from their roots and this is our basic religious duty.”
Narsinghanand was prepared to say what Modi government advocates of the CAA wanted to leave unsaid: that the CAA was an essential part of what the Hindutva groups call the unfinished agenda of partition – the expulsion of all Muslims from India:
Yati: After partition, the jihadis Gandhi and Nehru kept these traitors in the country. This is India’s biggest misfortune
Q: But maharaj ji these people say they stayed here by choice
Yati: It was not their choice, it was our weakness, we should have driven them out…
Hindus will have to understand, these are not our people, they are jihadis and we will have to finish them off, this is our religion, this is patriotism.
If there was any doubt about the genocidal import of his message, Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati told the Khabar India news channel that India had to follow China’s example in dealing with its Muslims, which is to treat Islam as a mental illness that must not be allowed to spread:
Yati; The whole world has seen what China is doing with the Muslims. The president of China has said Islam is a mental illness and that we won’t let our country fall prey to this disease.
Q: So how should we save our country?
Yati: Our country will save itself by following China’s pattern There is no other way.
The role of the ‘dharam sansad’
After the Jantar Mantar event, Yati Narsinghanand appears to focus his energy on mobilising young Hindus for a more intense programme of indoctrination.
On December 29, he put out a video appeal for what he called ‘Hindu lions’ to come to his headquarters in Ghaziabad for an important two day dharam sansad. ‘Nothing will happen if you don’t help me’, he said:
“I appeal to all young Hindus, wherever my voice reaches, you should all take part in the Dharam Sansad in Ghaziabad on January 12 and 13. This is my appeal. My children, my lions, nothing will happen if you don’t help me.”
The dharam sansad, or religious gathering, was held on January 12 and 13, 2020 and saw a number of inflammatory speeches by Hindutva ideologues and religious figures.
A video posted by the Satya Sanatan YouTube channel on January 16, 2020, features Narsinghanand, Ankur Arya and Yatima Chetna Saraswati, who speak on the main resolutions and message of this dharam sansad.
Narsinghanand said one decision is that Hindus should not depend on the police and army but assert their manhood and do what it takes for their own protection. Every Hindu home should produce more children. Every Hindu home should be armed. He also said the Dharma Sansad had resolved to honour Donald Trump because he believes in killing terrorists in their homes:
“Our Dharm Sansad has decided that it will honour Donald Trump and will invite him for our next dharm sansad. The way he is killing terrorists in their own homes, this is very necessary for the whole world and we regard Donald Trump as our hero.”
Was this reference to Trump a subtle message about the timing of the final battle that Nasinghanand had been speaking about since December 2019? Was it just a coincidence that militant Hindutva activists, radicalised by the kind of message Narsinghanand had been putting out, chose to honour their hero by targeting Musims in their own homes during his visit? This is a question the Delhi Police could have answered if only they had investigated the real conspiracy.
Open calls for killing
The reason Yati’s dharam sansad appears as a key event in the Delhi Riots chronology is because its real message was to tell the hundreds of young Hindus who attended it that their real enemy were Muslims and that this enemy had to be killed.
Ankur Arya, who runs the Satya Sanatan channel, explained the first part of this message very directly (from 8’00’’):
“Guru Gobind sahab once said that he would pit one against 125,000. Since then, we wondered who these 125,000 were. Yati ji in very clear words has told who those 125,000 are. They are jihadis. They are enemies of our religion.
We were always wondering. Nobody would explain, even big dharm sansads couldn’t tell us who these enemies were. But Swamiji has explained to us in clear terms.
From here, young people have got clearance to understand the play of words because earlier they could never realise who those sava lakh (125,000 people) were against whom Guru Gobind had said in his time that one should fight and one should cut up.”
Narasinghanand then gave the floor to his close associate, Yatima Chetna Saraswati, to make the closing comment. And what she said was an open exhortation to killing, literally, in so many words (from 15’21’’).
“Today, Narsinghanand Saraswati ji, who is our guru, has given us this message: that now the time has come for us to arm ourselves with weapons and massacre the enemy. Because the account of these nar-pishaach (demons/vampires) can only be settled when you have arms and the capability to uphold your faith. Otherwise all is lost. So my request to all those to whom this message reaches, they should listen carefully to this message and understand what the times are asking from them.”
One month after these chilling messages were conveyed and circulated, the ‘sanghaar’ or massacre Narsinghanand’s dharma sansad spoke of was enacted on the streets of north-east Delhi. And the young lions unleashed were in no doubt about kaun hain woh log jis se ladne ki baat kahi gaee aur kaatne ki baat kahi gaee aur jinki aankhein phod di jayengi – who was to be fought and cut up and blinded.
‘Muslims have no right to be alive’
But there was a final, genocidal call that Narsinghanand made, on February 22, 2020 – that is one day before the anti-Muslim violence began – where he said Muslims had no right to live. He was asked by another Hindutva channel whether he believed there could be ‘live and let live’ with Muslims (from 6’00’’):
“Good people should live and let good people live but those who are our enemies, who are enemies of our religion, who want to wipe us out, until we finish them off, until we remove this evil from society known as Islam, how can we survive? Live and let live can only be for civilised people, not for uncivilised thieves, not for terrorists, not for jihadis. We have to let our friends live, those who don’t cause us any problem. But those people have no right to be alive whose aim is to kill our children. Such people cannot be given the right to live.”
While inciting violence is an offence by itself, a proper police investigation is needed to see whether Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati played any direct role in the killings which followed his call.
- We know that his aide, Pinki Choudhary, leader of the Hindu Raksha Dal, claimed responsibility for an armed mob attack on JNU.
- We know his close associate, Deepak Singh Hindu of the ‘Hindu Force’, issued a video appeal on the morning of February 23, 2020, for his supporters to gather in strength at Maujpur chowk at 2:30 pm, when BJP leader Kapil Mishra made a provocative speech.
- We know that at least one rioter – the RSS activist Ankit Tiwari, who we featured in the first part of our investigation – attended some of the events where Narsinghanand spoke. He was in the audience during the December 25, 2019 event at Jantar Mantar where Yati called for violence against Muslims. Ankit Tiwari posted a video of the same speech on his Facebook page.
After the first part of our expose, Tiwari has deactivated his social media accounts but we have saved all his videos, in case the police ever decides to investigate him.
The chronology we have established in our investigation makes it clear that there was indeed a conspiracy to launch violence as early as December 2019, and that the ground was prepared over the next two months, culminating in the violence that took the lives of 53 people. Sadly, this is not the conspiracy the Delhi Police is investigating.
In the third part of our series, we will look at Hindutva activists like Ragini Tiwari and others, and explore how they fit into the wider political agenda of the Bharatiya Janata Party and sangh parivar in the National Capital Region, of which the Delhi Riots of 2020 were an important part.