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New Delhi: On September 29, 2021, a video of a man in a blue shirt protesting against Muslims offering Friday namaz on public land in Gurugram’s Sector 47 went viral on Twitter. It gained 247,000 views through a single tweet by Mahesh Vikram Hegde, a public figure with a following of over 181,000 people on Twitter and 47,000 people on Instagram, who regularly posts right-wing content.
The story was picked up by right-wing channels positioning it as a group of locals pushing back against the presence of Muslims citing fears of an increase in sexual harassment against the women in the area, and robbery.
By October 8, 2021, this had escalated into a full-scale protest at the area, with dozens of people carrying placards and shouting slogans to protest the Friday gathering.
The congregation had already moved the prayer meeting by a few metres to a location that the local administration had asked them to go to. Mufti Mohammad Saleem, president, Jamiat Ulama, Gurgaon told the Indian Express, “We complied with the request. Our only motive is to pray here in peace. Several workers from nearby come here to pray during lunchtime and leave after 15 minutes. I appeal to citizens to let us pray here.”
The man with the mic is Dinesh Bharti, member of Bharat Mata Vahini, who was earlier arrested and booked for disrupting Friday prayers and promoting enmity. He came out on bail this week. pic.twitter.com/0eYaHzjR8A
— Pavneet Singh Chadha 🚜 🌾 (@pub_neat) October 8, 2021
Right-wing ecosystem kicks in
After the ‘viral’ video, right-wing media channels picked up the story. Jan Ki Baat, founded by Pradeep Bhandari, formerly with Republic TV, with 279K followers on Twitter, put out a poll on the subject.
— Jan Ki Baat (@jankibaat1) September 30, 2021
#GurugramNamazSpots went on to trend on both Twitter and Koo according to screenshots posted by the channel.
‘The Country supports True Secularism.’ #GurugramNamazSpots Mukadma raised by Pradeep Bhandari is the top trend on Twitter & @KooAppIndia. The country is hooked to #JantaKaMukadma@pradip103 @IndiaNews_itv @JMukadma pic.twitter.com/UdxZkQY0Pr
— Jan Ki Baat (@jankibaat1) September 30, 2021
Background: Dinesh Bharti
According to a report by the Indian Express, among the protesting residents was Bharat Mata Vahini president Dinesh Bharti, who was arrested the previous week for allegedly disrupting Friday prayers.
He claimed, “This is an international conspiracy. They are offering namaz as part of this conspiracy of… love jihad, land jihad. If we don’t raise our voice, they will build a mosque here.”
Bharti has been central to this conflict since he put out a video on his social media channels on September 24, calling his followers to disperse the gathering of Muslims present at the time. His video did not feature a large mob – it just had seven to ten people, one of whom was a man in a blue shirt who was seen in the video which went viral.
However, in this video, Bharti goes on to say, “If the government does not stop this, we will open a gaushala and a gurukul here, and build a Hanuman mandir here.”
The group then proceeds to shout slogans like “land jihad band karo”, led by Dinesh Bharti. He says, “For the land of guru Dronacharya, and for the unity and integrity of India, we will give our lives but we won’t let land jihad take place…We will not let illegal masjids and mazhars be built on Guru Dron’s land.” He also goes on to say that “love jihad” will take place.
While the police did not intervene when these inflammatory statements were being made, they intervened when he made an attempt to go physically close to the assembled congregants.
The blue-shirted man in the video goes on to say that his sisters and daughters have been having difficulties due to the congregants present there, without substantiating the allegation with any specifics. He goes on to say, “Like the girl was killed in Meerut and Faridabad, they will make sport of us.”
In the background, one man is heard saying, “Half of these [people] are Bangladeshi.”
The man says that while his children play in the area in the afternoons, on Friday they cannot come because it looks like a “Pakistan border”. He ends by asking, whose land is it – “is it theirs or ours?” He asks this because the police restrained the mob from going near the congregants.
This was not the first time the police had to intervene, with a video on September 17 showing a similar situation.
While Dinesh Bharti here is being portrayed by proxy as a ‘local’, he regularly features in anti-Muslim activities that end up being in the media spotlight.
On August 8, according to a video he put out on his social media, he was arrested on his way to the Jantar Mantar rally which saw calls to boycott and murder Muslims. According to him, they were arrested for raising a ‘bhagwa‘ flag.
The previous day, he had put out a call on his social media calling for the protest saying, “As many Muslims are attacking Hindus, to defeat them, to prepare the youth, and to maintain gaushalas and gurukuls, Bharat Mata Vahini is doing this across the country. In Delhi, chief minister Kejriwal should hear us, we sat on the road. In Delhi, not one single illegal pir, mazhar or masjid… as many Haj Houses as are being made, we will not let them be made, they will be destroyed. Either you stop work, or you will have to face the opposition of Hindu organisations. In the time to come, we will tell you how many steps you can take outside your house.”
8अगस्त को जंतर मंतर पर चलने का आव्हान ओर केजरीवाल को चुनोती । pic.twitter.com/tp5i3xLnqT
— Bharat mata vahini Bharat (@DINESHT08881636) August 6, 2021
Bharti’s anti-namaz campaign has been taking place for some time. According to a report by the Daily Pioneer, he was previously arrested in April 2021 for attempting to stop namaz taking place at Sector 46, with a complaint stating that he along with an associate Sudhir Kumar had tried to stop the prayers taking place in Sector 39 and Sector 40 as well. He had been detained the month before that for his actions in Sector 40.
In May 2021, Bharati was one of the speakers at the Indri “Hindu” Mahapanchayat in Mewat in support of Asif Khan‘s lynchers. Demanding the release of the accused, the Bharat Mata Vahini leader said he would welcome AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi with shoes and stones if he visited Mewat. Bharati also allegedly led a march in support of Asif Khan’s killers.
How the ‘fringe’ narrative of ‘land jihad’ became mainstream
In 2018, there were a series of attacks on Muslims offering namaz in open spaces in Gurugram. A group of men attacked Muslims offering prayers at a public place and allegedly forced them to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’. Following this attack, the accusation of “land Jihad” against Muslim men in Haryana was made by controversial Hindutva leaders like Yati Narsinghanand. Calling namaz in open spaces a state sanction, Narsinghanand said, “This is a conspiracy to destroy Gurugram since it is a new economic hub.”
Speaking to the Hindustan Times, Narsinghanand had said: “We are about to launch a revolution on the land of Gurgaon.” Narsinghanand was briefly arrested for attempting to self-immolate in front of chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s residence to protest public namaz in Gurugram. Supporters of Narsinghanand wrote a letter with their blood in his support. After his arrest, Hindutva leaders like Ragini Tiwari launched protests against “land Jihad” in Gurugram.
This rhetoric was legitimised later by senior ministers in the present Haryana government.
In 2018, reacting to the violent protest and abusive attacks against those offering namaz in public spaces in Gurugram, Anil Vij, the home minister of Haryana had said, “Offering prayers at a place with the intention of grabbing land is wrong and will not be allowed.”