Lucknow: Few people besides his faithful knew Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati, 51, the mahant (chief priest) at Dasna Devi Mandir in Ghaziabad, until last Sunday. And then he made headlines with a vitriolic speech that threatened Muslims and went viral.
Standing beside the grieving mother of Hindu Samaj leader Kamlesh Tiwari, who was murdered at his Lucknow home Friday by suspected Muslim assailants, Narsinghanand thundered that India “will be clean of Islam” soon. He also threatened to “eliminate” Muslims.
But the rant was no aberration for Narsinghanand, a Russian-educated engineer who has worked in Moscow and London and claims to be a former member of the Samajwadi Party.
Narsinghanand faces over six cases of alleged rioting, causing communal hatred and under the Arms Act, including for attempting to set up an “army” to counter the West Asia-based terror group Islamic State.
Police in Uttar Pradesh describe him as a nuisance but, to his followers, Narsinghanand is a “dharm yoddha (warrior of faith)”.
The man himself has few regrets about his virulent statements.
“Islam should be eradicated from Earth,” the national head of the Akhil Bharatiya Sant Parishad told ThePrint in an interview, adding that “all Muslims should be eliminated”.
“I am proud of what I do,” he said.
Following his speech about Tiwari, Narsinghanand and his followers have been booked under IPC sections 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings), 298 (uttering words with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person) and 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace).
Asked about the FIR, Narsinghanand laughed. “What do you expect from these eunuchs (police)? Whoever criticises me for what I said are all jihadis,” he said.
The contempt is mutual. A source in the Uttar Pradesh Police said Narsinghanand’s activities were constantly monitored because of his reputation as a “troublemaker”.
Just a day before Narsinghanand left for Lucknow to visit Tiwari’s family, the source added, police had initiated proceedings to book him under the Goonda Act because of his alleged proclivity to incite tensions.
“He organises his own panchayats (at Dasna, which is predominantly Muslim) without police permission. Moreover, the speeches he gives are extremely provocative… in nature, which can lead to a communal clash,” the source said. “For example, he asks Hindu men to have more children to outnumber Muslims.”
A Tyagi by caste, Narsinghanand allegedly also held a panchayat when Dhruv Tyagi, a Delhi businessman, was reportedly killed in May by Muslim suspects when he objected to their misbehaviour with his daughter.
The police officer said that, a month ago, Narsinghanand started a panchayat to mediate between two Hindu groups that turned violent. Police registered a case, but could not arrest him as he got a stay from the Allahabad High Court, the officer said.
“This is why we decided to book him under the Goonda Act and keep him under preventive custody,” the source added. “The process to invoke the Goonda Act against him is underway.”
‘Born to do something big’
According to Narsinghanand, he completed his Master’s from what was then known as Moscow Institute of Chemical Machine Building. Once he completed his course, he said, he worked “as an engineer and headed marketing teams” at several companies in the Russian capital as well as in London. After over nine years abroad, he added, he returned to India in 1997.
“I felt that I was born to do something big, so I thought I should return and try my hands in politics,” Narsinghanand said.
“My father worked with the Ministry of Defence but, before Partition, he had also been with the Congress. I had seen him discuss politics, so I thought maybe I can be a politician too,” he added.
On his return to India, Narsinghanand said, he started teaching mathematics, which he claims is a strength.
“I won the All Europe Olympiad (sic) in mathematics in 1992. So, I thought I should teach children,” he added. “But after that, I got an offer from the Samajwadi Party to lead their youth brigade. I thought I would start as a youth leader and then slowly get into mainstream politics,” he said.
ThePrint spoke to Samajwadi Party members for information about Narsinghanand’s stint with the outfit, but no one seemed to remember him.
‘Not always a hater’
An unapologetic baiter now, Narsinghanand claimed he hadn’t always hated Muslims.
“Many of them were my friends too. I associated religion with superstition but later my life transformed,” he said.
It was during his initial days back home, he added, that he met BJP leader Baikunth Lal Sharma aka Prem, who had won his first parliamentary election in 1991 by defeating Congress veteran H.K.L. Bhagat. The leader, he said, “saw a spark in me”.
“When I met Premji, he had quit the BJP and joined the Hindutva Jagran… I started meeting him often and he told me many stories of Muslim atrocities, which shocked me,” he said.
However, it wasn’t until a personal experience, he added, that he believed Sharma.
A girl from a Ghaziabad college allegedly approached him and complained about harassment by a group of Muslim men he hung out with.
According to him, she alleged that one of her friends (a Muslim woman) asked her to befriend a Muslim man. When she agreed and started meeting the man, her friend allegedly clicked objectionable photographs of the two and circulated them in college. The photographs, she is said to have alleged, were used to blackmail her into granting sexual favours to “professors, ministers and other Muslim men”.
“She told me that those were the same Muslim men I roamed around with. I was shaken,” he said. “She told me that I was responsible for her misery. It shook me from within,” he added.
“That day I thought, what if these Muslims do the same to my daughter… That is when I began this fight for Islam-mukt (Islam-free) Bharat,” he said.
Hindus, Narsinghanand added, should pick up arms. “It is time for revenge,” he said. “I do not regret anything I said. I have now taken this work, to eliminate Islam from this earth, in my hands, and I will do it.”
An ‘army’ against Islamic State
In 2016, Narsinghanand gathered hundreds of his followers to start a “dharam sena (religious army)” to fight the Islamic State.
More than 50 centres at ashrams in western UP were allegedly engaged to give arms training — in swords, knives and firearms — to Hindu boys and men between the ages of 8 and 25 years.
Narsinghanand said the step was meant for the “welfare” of the nation.
“Kids and youth were trained to fight terrorists of the Islamic State. What is wrong with that? We were just creating our parallel army, but police did not understand this and they shut down the training centres and put our boys behind bars,” he added.
He was booked by police in the matter. Another Arms Act case was filed in 2017 when a dozen of Narsinghanand’s followers allegedly fired gunshots in the air during “shastra puja”, a tradition associated with Dussehra where arms are worshipped. Police said the firearms used by his followers were not licensed and hence illegal, but Narsinghanand sees the entire incident as observing tradition.
“Yes, my boys did fire in the air but that is how shastra puja is done. What is the big deal?” he said.
Narsinghanand has been arrested twice, but managed bail on both occasions.
‘A real sadhu’
A YouTube page with thousands of followers hosts several of Narasinghanand’s speeches — speeches as provocative as the one he made Sunday.
In a speech from May 2016, Narsinghanand is heard saying that India will collapse in 20 years if the Muslim population continues to grow at the same pace. Speaking to ThePrint, he said he went on a hunger strike for the cause in 2017 and only ended it when one lakh youths pledged to have five children each.
Such comments and campaigns appeal to his followers, who number in the thousands and visit his temple in Dasna. Some of them have vowed to spend their lives in his service.
Ragini Tiwari, who claimed to be Narsinghanand’s shishya (student), told ThePrint that his “popularity” could be attributed to his “selfless service”.
“He helps everyone. He has helped many Hindu families get medical treatment that they could otherwise not afford. Whenever a Hindu is in trouble, he is always standing beside him,” she said.
“He is a dharam yoddha (warrior of faith) who is truly fighting for Hindutva. He does not walk around with a bodyguard, a gunman, any banner. Because he is a real sadhu who does not care about his life,” she added. “He just knows how to serve people.”