Mohit Yadav became Monu Manesar at 21, in 2016. His social media debut: seen in a viral video assaulting two Muslim men and forcing them to eat cow dung for allegedly transporting beef.
In the years that followed, we saw Manesar sitting surrounded with lethal firearms, posing with senior Haryana police officials for ‘services rendered,’ in photographs with senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders. And of course, his videos of battered Muslim ‘cow smugglers’. He became the ‘face’ of right-wing Hindu cow vigilantism, a euphemism for beating up and hating on Muslims.
Despite the overt violence and hate in his videos, Google and Facebook (now Meta) did little. His YouTube channel even won a silver play button. They took down his pages only in early 2023, but by then it mattered little because years of damage had already been done. Besides, his videos continue to be hugely shared by dozens of right-wing groups and hundreds of his ‘fans’.
He was also embraced by the Haryana government, which gave official sanction to ‘gau raksha task forces’ of the kind led by Manesar. Notified by the state government in 2021, to ‘help’ Haryana Police enforce its Cow Protection Act, it gave Monu and his goons a ‘sarkari’ license to pick up and assault alleged ‘cow smugglers’ (often duly filmed on video for social media sharing) before ‘handing them over’ to the police.
In February 2023, Monu Manesar’s violent career peaked, as Rajasthan police named him as the main accused in the kidnap and murder of two Muslim men. Nasir Hussain and Junaid Khan were allegedly burned alive in their car in Bhiwani by cow vigilantes. For months Monu was able to evade arrest. In August, he was linked to the communal violence in Nuh, which claimed at least 6 lives. A provocative viral video of Manesar calling on Hindus to take part in large numbers in a religious procession in Nuh, was seen as a major contributing factor to the violence.
Some weeks later, Monu seemed to go from asset to liability. He was arrested by the Haryana police for ‘objectionable’ social media posts, and then handed over to the Rajasthan police for questioning about his alleged role in the killing of Junaid and Nasir. Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal and several other Hindu right-wing social media groups and Monu’s fans have criticised BJP governments, in Haryana and at the Centre, for not ‘protecting’ him. Visuals on social media of Monu on his haunches, at the feet of Haryana cops, were seen as an ‘insult’ to the ‘star’ gau rakshak.
So, how do we view this 7-year-career of Monu Manesar?
Has the poster boy of Hindu right wing hate and violence been thrown ‘under the bus’ by the BJP? Does he represent a ‘use and throw’ policy being followed by the Sangh – exploiting the infamy of a Monu Manesar for years, embracing and legitimising him and his violence, reaping the political and electoral benefits of the hate being spread by him and his cohorts that polarises the nation and even shielding him from the law for as long as possible?
And then, as the violence gets to the point of ‘far too horrific’ (the brazen burning alive of Junaid and Nasir), becoming indefensible even for iron-plated stomachs of his benefactors, he is jettisoned as a face-saver?
The answer is in between. There is an element of ‘use and throw’, but there is also a charade being played out, as we shall see below. As for Manesar, he knew what he signed up for. For decades, most political parties have engaged with criminal elements, used their local muscle power and ‘fear factor’, in some cases even used their unaccounted-for wealth, to gain and wield political power on the ground and win elections.
For Manesar, that was the template, with a communal tweak – use his ‘gau raksha’ vigilantism to gain local notoriety and clout; tap into, and further vitiate the climate of hate against Muslims; rub shoulders with Hindu right-wing leadership; and hope to be rewarded – maybe a sought after post in the VHP-Bajrang Dal-BJP ecosystem, perhaps an MLA ticket sometime later, and so on.
There were ‘success stories’ he may have wanted to emulate – Yati Narsinghanand, the priest of Dasna Mandir in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, whose anti-Muslim vitriol perhaps earned him the title of Mahamandaleshwar by the Juna Akhara – India’s biggest and most influential sadhu Akhara – in 2021. He repaid by upping his hate speech quotient.
Another ‘role model’ may have been Kapil Mishra, infamous for standing next to a senior Delhi cop in February 2020 and threatening violence in North-East Delhi just hours before bloody communal riots actually broke out. Mishra has repeatedly made inflammatory speeches on social media and in public since joining the BJP in 2019. In August 2023, he was made a vice president of BJP’s Delhi unit.
But let’s also examine how the Hindu right wing leadership has dealt with other radical vigilantes and social media ‘stars’ like Monu Manesar, when they turned ‘too hot to handle’. Do the FIRs and arrests, and the denial and the disowning that follows ring true, or is there a pattern here that reveals a charade? A charade of ‘allowing’ the law to ‘take its own course’, but actually being ineffectual.
For instance, Bittu Bajrangi, arrested on August 15, in connection with the Nuh violence, was promptly disowned by the VHP. A day after his arrest, VHP wrote on X (formerly Twitter) that Bajrangi had “never been associated with Bajrang Dal” and that the content of his videos “was not appropriate”. It was stressed that Bajrangi headed his own group, the Gau Raksha Bajrang force. Was this a wilful ‘use and deny’ policy, or just the fig leaf of ‘plausible deniability’ since he had run afoul of the law?
Bajrangi was granted bail just 15 days after his arrest, paltry compared to the over 1000 days Umar Khalid has spent behind bars, simply because he was arrested under the draconian UAPA. Narsinghanand too, arrested in January 2022, after calling for the killing of Muslims at a so-called Dharam Sansad in Haridwar in December 2021, was granted bail in less than a month despite the grave charges against him.
Kajal Hindustani was similarly ‘disowned’ by the VHP in early April 2023, after being named in an FIR for making inflammatory speeches that contributed to communal violence in Gujarat’s Unain March. But before this denial, Kajal Hindustani, with her signature catchy ‘hate poems’ was a sought after figure at radical Hindutva public events, with a massive social media following. During 2022-23, she was seen at several Sakal Hindu Samaj rallies in Maharashtra, where she even shared the stage with BJP MPs and MLAs. Kajal too got bail within days of her arrest. She continues to post hate laden vitriol on social media.
Rambhakt Gopal, the so-called’ Jamia University shooter’, who shot at a group of anti-CAA protestors in January 2020, injuring one student, could be described as a case of ‘use, deny and reuse’. At the time of the incident, the Bajrang Dal denied having any links with him. Praveen Bhati, a Bajrang Dal leader from west UP, said, “He is not a primary member of Bajrang Dal.. We condemn his act..”. But after his release, these denials were forgotten and Gopal has since been ‘re-used’ by the Hindutva ecosystem. He has spoken at mahapanchayats and has posted visuals on social media brandishing guns and harassing Muslims with weapons.
It would also help to look at Chandan Gupta, a case of ‘use and forget’. Gupta was an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activist who was killed in violence during a ‘Tiranga yatra’ (flag march) on January 26, 2018 in Kasganj. At the time, his death was ‘used’ – he was lionised, UP state ministers visited his home and attended his cremation. A ‘chowk’ was announced in his name at Kasganj. But in 2021 his family staged a protest in Lucknow, claiming that Chandan had been forgotten. They claimed that his sister was given a government job but it was scrapped within six months. Chandan’s incomplete bust sits covered with plastic at the chowk that was to be named after him. The family says that no minister has had the time to inaugurate it over the last 5 years. With no ‘reuse’ value, Chandan was bound to be forgotten.
The pattern that emerges goes roughly like this – first, exploit, lionise, patronise, shield and reward. Second, when the excesses get unpalatable, there’s deny, disown and a mild rap on the knuckles in the form of toothless FIRs, bail within days, cases that drag on or collapse over time. Third, where possible, rehabilitate and reuse.
It’s possible that Monu Manesar’s case may play out differently, and defeat the cynicism in the analysis above. For now, we’ll just have to wait and watch.
Rohit Khanna is a journalist and video storyteller. He has been Managing Editor at The Quint, and is a two-time Ramnath Goenka award winner.