Rent-a-riot leaders exposed in UP: Chilling sting operation tapes politicians from across parties agreeing to stage religious violence for Rs 5 lakh
The sight of vigilante groups mounting violent attacks in the name of faith is becoming unpleasantly routine across India. Deadly riots are sparked by hate speech, delivered at rallies or spread on social media.
But a rare investigation carried out by Indian Today TV has established that not all the bloodshed that happens over religion is spontaneous.
In a series of sting operations spread over 10 days, India Today TV unravelled how several leaders cutting across political lines are ready to stage religious violence for money.
A riot in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur in 2014 (file picture). Such scenes have become horribly prevalent across India in recent years.
An undercover reporter posing as a filmmaker criss-crossed parts of Uttar Pradesh to meet them, with a proposal to attack the screening of a fictitious “blasphemous” documentary.
In a shocking demonstration of double-standards, none of them took offence to the theme of the film that supposedly challenged the core of their religious beliefs. Rather, all of them displayed a devastating ease in agreeing to orchestrate violent protests over the documentary as part of a deal to give it publicity.
“Whatever you’ll say, we’ll do,” said Parminder Arya, sitting on a bed in a Noida hospital.
Arya leads the hardline Hindu Swabhiman Sangathan, and its Dharma Sena unit. He also claims links with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
Arya recently shot to fame after he gave anti-jihad training to young Hindu men in Uttar Pradesh against potential threats from the Islamic State (ISIS). But his Hindu pride was anything but hurt when he heard the subject of the fake film disputing India as the birthplace of Lord Ram.
Parminder Arya, head of the hardline Hindu Swabhiman Sangathan, suggested sending 50 men to create a ruckus at a fake film screening
He expressed his readiness to participate in a plan to garner publicity for the so-called documentary by ordering an attack on its screening in the state.
“Some 50 (men) will reach there (to the screening for the protests). Fifty are enough,” Arya remarked, when asked how many people he could send in to disrupt the public show.
Nonchalantly, the Hindutva leader also dropped a few battle-cries that he said would be used by his rioters.
“They will shout slogans that it is an anti-Ram film, slogans such as ‘Jo Ram Ka Nahin, Woh Kisi Kaam Ka Nahin’, ‘Ram Ka Apmaan, Nahin Sahega Hindustan’. They will break all your banners and posters,” he said, explaining how his men would create chaos at the proposed screening.
Arya also promised manhandling during the protests.
“Let us know whose clothes are to be torn. We’ll do that. Sometime, boys go berserk. There are chances of people getting seriously injured in such situations,” he said.
Besides, the man said he would issue angry statements in the media designed to give publicity to the documentary.
“It’s not a big deal. It will appear in the media. You should then give your statements to print and broadcast media… and I’ll give my interviews,” Arya said.
He sought 10 days to organise his band of thugs to bring about the sponsored mayhem.
Arya claimed he would seal the contract for the anti-film riot discretely.
Kapil Dev Agarwal, a BJP MLA from Muzaffarnagar, wanted to know how he would ‘benefit’ from engineering violent disorder
“It should definitely be done. You see we don’t know each other very well. But if I say something, I keep my word. That’s a habit. I also had to suffer because of that but I don’t step back. I don’t lie. I don’t throw estimates. Whatever is there is fixed, brother. We’ll meet in the next one or two days or talk about it on the phone in coded words,” he said.
Next, the undercover journalist travelled to Muzaffarnagar, the scene of tragic Hindu-Muslim riots in 2013, to visit its BJP MLA, Kapil Dev Agarwal. In their first meeting, the legislator lost no composure as he heard about the purportedly anti-Hindu subject of the bogus documentary. Instead, he sounded keen to know what was there for him to gain from it.
“How do I benefit from it? How do you benefit from it?” Agarwal asked.
However, he was quick to understand that the proposal centred around a lucrative publicity stunt.
“So, it’s about marketing your film… What’s on offer?” he asked.
Before he drove off, Agarwal advised a second meeting.
India Today TV’s undercover journalist visited him again at his Muzaffarnagar home. This time, Agarwal explained how he would manipulate unrest. But the price, the legislator maintained, had to be right.
“If you want to do, do something big,” the MLA suggested. “I’ll tell my boys. They’ll create a ruckus, will tear your screen. They’ll create chaos. I will also issue a press statement to demand your film be banned.”
He too claimed his angry reaction to the documentary would give it adequate publicity.
“We will make an issue out of your film. But your offer should strike me… Tell me the amount. What about the amount? What would you do about it?” he asked.
Those prepared to cause trouble over religion are not all exponents of Hindutva. Parties espousing socialism, with a wider base in minority communities, are also apparently infected.
At Roorkee, India Today TV’s journalist, disguised as a documentary-maker, met Hafiz Mohammed Irfan, president of the Samajwadi Party’s Haridwar unit.
Their conversation revolved around the same subject, except for a change that the fictitious film was anti-Muslim.
SP leader Hafiz Mohammed Irfan quoted a price of Rs 5 lakh to organise 50 to 60 men
Irfan agreed to organise a fracas.
“You want protests, slogans and what else?” he asked. “Some shoving,” replied the reporter.
“Everything will be arranged,” the SP leader answered back.
He then quoted the price – Rs 5 lakh – for the ruckus.
“I’ll have to prepare 50 to 60 men… Five lakh (rupees),” Irfan said.
The SP leader then pledged full media publicity for the controversial documentary.
Interestingly, when India Today TV later called Irfan, he denied involvement in outsourcing communal trouble to goons for money.
When told about the sting, SP leader Juhi Singh called it “a conspiracy by Opposition parties”. However, she said the party will “probe footage and take action, if required”.
As for the BJP, party spokesperson Anila Singh, who hails from Muzaffarnagar, said it is the responsibility of the state government to maintain law and order in the state.
“We will examine the footage and then order any probe,” she said.
But the BSP and the Congress have found a stick to beat the SP and the BJP with.
BSP leader Sudhindra Bhadoria said: “The sting has exposed the two parties. Their agenda has always been to polarise people along religious lines.”
Similar sentiments were shared by the Congress’s Ajoy Kumar.
“It exposes what we have always believed: that the SP and the BJP have same modus operandi,” said the Congress spokesperson.
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