Sunil Singh has been in the news a great deal during the course of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. The leader of the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV), a right-wing group based in Gorakhpur, has not only fielded 20 candidates against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), he has also challenged the authority of his one-time mentor, Yogi Adityanath, a five-time parliamentarian and the BJP's firebrand leader in UP.
In a recent interview with HuffPost India, the 40-year-old Singh explained why he believes so passionately in the cause of Hindu supremacy in India and how much he dislikes Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "double standards and drama" on secularism. "First, you claim to be secular, then you give two helicopters to your most firebrand leader Yogi Adityanath to go to western UP to polarise people on Love Jihad, Karbala and Kabristan," said Singh.
"You, yourself, are talking about graveyards," he continued, referring to Modi. "You pretend to be secular to show the world, but when you want votes, you fall back on Hindutva."
'You pretend to be secular to show the world, but when you want votes, you fall back on Hindutva.'
On whether the cause of Hindu supremacy was out-of-sync with the times, Singh neither agreed or disagreed. The question was relevant considering that BJP's primary pitch was development and that, with the exception of firebrands, its leaders kept themselves bridled with only veiled references to polarising issues.
Singh did not contest that Modi cut a very popular figure in the state. But the youth leader went on to explain that Hindutva to him was non-negotiable, whether or not it was politically lucrative. "Whether you win or lose votes, you have to stick to the principles. My fight is for the principles," he said.
Not In It To Win
In addition to alleged involvement in the riots of Mau and Gorakhpur, HYV members were detained for launching a reconversion programme in 2014. Singh has described Aligarh Muslim University as a "nursery of terrorism," with links to the ISIS.
The trouble started earlier this year, when Singh raised his voice against the BJP leadership for what he perceived as an affront to his mentor, Yogi Adityanath, the patron of Hindu Yuva Vahini. He questioned why Adityanath was not projected as the chief ministerial candidate of UP and his exclusion from Modi's Cabinet as well as from on-going election campaign posters.
The campaign build-up coincided with a wave of anger that convulsed the BJP cadres over the choice of candidates, especially the inclusion of those who were regarded as "outsiders" and "rebels" from other parties. The "loyal" ticket seekers who had spent considerable time and resources in constituencies from where they sought tickets were devastated. Money not merit, they said, had won the day.
But unlike the thousands of disgruntled party workers whose disappointment was confined to caustic words at the national party president Amit Shah and state party president Keshav Prasad Maurya, Singh decided to go further. He challenged the BJP by fielding many candidates against it. These rivals were from the Hindu Yuva Vahini.
Even after his mentor, Yogi Adityanath, turned around and sacked him, Singh continued to function as the leader of the Vahini. He tied up with the Maharashtra-based Shiv Sena. Together they are fielding over 100 candidates in eastern UP, causing a worry to the BJP.
Local observers point out that Yogi Adityanath has stood tall on the Vahini's shoulders for many years, gaining in strength and stature from its radical push of Hindutva in the region.
In this election, so far, the BJP has delegated polarisation politics to leaders such as Sangeet Som and Yogi Adityanath, punctuated with some pointed remarks from Modi at rallies and a distasteful acronym from party president Amit Shah.
Meanwhile, the Vahini and the Shiv Sena have unabashedly campaigned on the Hindutva plank, promising to secure the interests of the Hindus. While the BJP espouses the cause of the Ram Temple within constitutional norms, the right-wing alliance vows to go ahead with the temple building, no matter what, if it comes to power.
When this reporter pointed out that his political calculations could end up splitting the Hindu votes to the benefit of either the BSP or the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance, Singh said, "I don't care."
"This isn't so much about winning as it is about teaching the BJP a lesson," he said. "BJP, Amit Shah and Keshav Prasad Maurya must realise that you cannot treat workers like they are dirt. You cannot use them and then discard them."
Singh continued, "This is hurt and pain talking. Hurt that comes when you put your blood, sweat and tears into a cause you believe in, but all for nothing. Pain that comes from being beaten by the police, going to jail, for your principles."
'This is hurt and pain talking. Hurt that comes when you put your blood, sweat and tears into a cause you believe in, but all for nothing.'
Burning Muslim Houses
Singh, who holds a Master of Science degree in biology, was born in a village named Ahmedpur, around 40 kilometres from Gorakhpur. After working with the ABVP for a few years, he became an ardent follower of Yogi Adityanath in the 1990s.
On why there was a need to create an outfit of young Hindu men, Singh repeated the oft-cited claims of Muslim men harassing Hindu girls and the slaughter of cows. He recalled a time when BJP workers could not enter a Muslim-dominated zone of 42 villages on the Gorakhpur-Maharajganj border, describing it as "a place worse than Pakistan".
Singh is unapologetic about any violence that might have come about in the pursuit of protecting Hindus. He recalled with satisfaction the mayhem that was left in the Mohan Mundera village of Kushinagar where a Muslim had allegedly raped a Dalit minor in 2002. "I say it without any hesitation, there was not a single Muslim house left there that did not have smoke coming out of it," he said.
'I say it without any hesitation, there was not a single Muslim house left there that did not have smoke coming out of it.'
When this reporter pointed out that Modi as the prime minister had an outlook different from that of a Hindutva crusader for the BJP, Singh said in that case he should make his stand clear.
The youth leader continued that hundreds of thousands of workers had helped Modi win the 2014 Lok Sabha election based on the twin causes of "development and Hindutva".
In 2014, Modi had accused the Congress-led government of aiding the "pink revolution" by subsidising slaughter houses, Singh stated. However, India continued to remain the top beef exporter almost three years into the BJP government.
"There cannot be two standards. You do not give even a single ticket to Muslims in Uttar Pradesh, but in Jammu and Kashmir, you are forming a government with Mufti Mohammed Sayeed's Party. What happened to Article 370? What happened to the rehabilitation of the Hindus in Kashmir? Your party is now at the Centre. What have you done about these issues?"
The youth leader continued. "When it is election time, you bring up the Ram Mandir, otherwise you forget it. You (Modi) had promised to be tough on Pakistan, but you go to Pakistan and attend a wedding in Nawaz Sharif's family. You go to Pakistan, but you don't visit the Ram Temple in Ayodhya."
There cannot be two standards. You do not give even a single ticket to Muslims in Uttar Pradesh, but in Jammu and Kashmir, you are forming a government with Mufti Mohammed Sayeed's Party.
Singh described the BJP's approach to the issue of Triple Talaq as "more drama". "Don't Hindu women have problems? At least, a Muslim man leaves a Muslim woman after saying talaq three times. Prime Minister left his wife without talaq."
Singh appears to be in two minds about the future. On the one hand, he wants to see the BJP lose and to build the Hindu Yuva Vahini into a political party dedicated to the "glory of Hindus". On the other hand, he is still attached to Yogi Adityanath, whom he calls his "guru".
"When he has come out of the black magic done by Amit Shah, we will work together again," he says.
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