Mahmudabad/Lucknow: He was just 12 when he picked his first fight against the Muslim community in his hometown of Uttar Pradesh’s Mahmudabad.
The sight of a Hindu woman talking with a Muslim man enraged him so much that he collected a group of youngsters to “teach them a lesson”. While the man was chased and assaulted, the woman was reported to her family.
This incident marked the beginning of Kamlesh Tiwari’s Hindutva journey.
Last week, the 45-year-old leader of ultra-Right outfit Hindu Samaj Party was killed by two men at his Lucknow residence.
Tiwari, also known as ‘Kamlesh Tiger’, rose to prominence with his strong anti-Muslim and pro-Hindutva stance, hate speeches and role in the Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya in 1992.
His idols included former Vishwa Hindu Parishad president Ashok Singhal, who led the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in Ayodhya, Sadhvi Ritambhara, who was indicted for her involvement in the Babri Masjid demolition, and Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi.
On the course to founding his own party, Tiwari first flirted with Hindutva group Bajrang Dal before moving on to Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha, another Right nationalist force. Both the organisations are affiliates of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent organisation of the ruling BJP.
Tiwari even tried his hand at electoral politics, fighting the 2012 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections from central Lucknow, but without any success.
He hit national headlines for the first time in 2015 when he was arrested under the National Security Act (NSA) for triggering a riot with his remarks on Prophet Muhammad. The Allahabad High Court revoked the charges but the Hindu Mahasabha left him by the wayside, and he started the Hindu Samaj Party.
Four years later, Tiwari’s murder is again dominating political discourse, with BJP leaders backing the state administration’s claims that “radicalised” Muslim youths killed the leader. However, Tiwari’s mother has alleged that a local BJP leader was involved in her son’s killing.
With controversy around the case getting bigger with each passing day, ThePrint spoke to members of Tiwari’s family, and his organisations, to trace his three-decade long political journey, as he went from running a small extremist outfit in his hometown to running pan-India full-fledged hate campaigns against the Muslim community.
‘Hindu Tiger Force’
Tiwari was 16 when he assembled over a dozen youngsters from neighbouring Sitapur and Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh to form a group called ‘Hindu Tiger Force’. He referred to these youngsters as ‘commanders’.
These ‘commanders’ were meant to keep the Muslim population under a close check, strategise on how to evict them, hold dharnas, spread the idea of a Hindu Rashtra (‘Hindu nation’) and “rescue” Hindu girls from falling for Muslim men.
“Tiwari’s fight was for Hindutva. He knew that these Muslim men trap Hindu women, so that they can convert them, increase their numbers and eventually become a majority,” Dharam Raj Tiwari, who was a ‘commander’ with the Hindu Tiger Force, told ThePrint.
“We used to hold meetings, counsel Hindu girls to not get trapped by Muslim men. Wherever we found that a Hindu girl was getting attracted to a Muslim, we would immediately intervene and rescue her,” he said.
In case a Muslim girl fell for a Hindu boy, the Hindu Tiger Force would support her conversion. “Being a Hindu is far superior, so if a Muslim woman fell in love with a Hindu, we would support her ‘ghar wapsi’,” Tiwari added.
Ghar wapsi is the larger Hindutva idea of return to Hindu fold.
Rajesh Mani Tripathi, who was also a part of the group and is now a province president of Hindu Samaj Party, said the ‘force’ was “for the Hindus and against the Muslims”. “If any Hindu woman had any problem with a Muslim, she would come to us and we would resolve the problem without letting the matter reach the police,” he said.
“We would take out processions against the Muslims, stress the need for a Hindu Rashtra, hold meetings and plan for the future,” he said.
“Tiwari always said, ‘If a Hindu slaps you, you let it go. But if a Muslim even mildly abuses you, do not spare him with his life’,” added Tripathi.
For his education on these matters, Tiwari used to read about Maratha ruler Shivaji and Nathuram Godse, among others, and then prepare his speeches for the local body meetings of his extremist outfit.
“All day he would hear the speeches of (Sadhvi) Ritambhara and (BJP leader) Uma Bharti and get restless. He would then leave home early morning saying he was on a mission and gather youngsters to hold meetings,” Kusum Tiwari, Kamlesh’s mother who is a caretaker of Ram Janki temple in Mahmudabad, told ThePrint.
Soon, the Hindu Tiger Force grew popular and youths started to volunteer to work with it.
“I would ask him to concentrate on his studies but he would not listen. He had very strong anti-Muslim sentiment even as a child. His only aim was to chase them away from our land and he worked very hard for it, until he lived,” she added.
Breaking mosques and building temples
During this time, Tiwari found himself another Hindu cause to associate with — the Ram temple at Ayodhya.
In 1990, Kolkata-based Kothari brothers were killed along with 14 others in firing by the UP police at the religious volunteers (karsevaks) who had assembled near the Ram Janmabhoomi site in Ayodhya.
That incident strengthened his “resolve” for a Hindu Rashtra, Tiwari’s family said.
“After the Kothari murder, he was shattered. He called for a (Hindu Tiger Force) meeting and announced that we need to do something,” Rajesh Mani Tripathi said. “We used to hear (Sadhvi) Ritambhara and Uma Bharati talk about it and seethe with anger. Those deaths had to be avenged.”
In 1992, Tripathi took over 600 karsevaks to Ayodhya and broke Babri Masjid’s gate number 3 structure.
Dharam Raj Tiwari, who was with Tiwari then, said, “He went with a hammer and broke the gate himself. Then there was a clash with the police, but we were happy to have made an attempt and sent a message across.”
This led to a bigger following for Tiwari among Hindu extremists.
The karsevak group that Tiwari led to Ayodhya then proceeded towards Gyanvapi Mukti mosque in Banaras (now Varanasi) and tried to demolish it. The dispute over the mosque is ongoing with claims that it has been built on the land of Kashi Vishwanath temple.
“That too was a success and we became more popular,” said Dharam Raj.
Tiwari then started drawing a list of mosques that he believed were constructed on land of Hindu temples. “He came up with a list of 12 mosques that were built on land that originally belonged to temples,” Tripathi said.
The list of mosques “built on temple land” across India, according to Tripathi, includes Alamgir (on land of Bindu Madhav temple) in Varanasi; Kamal Maula mosque (Saraswati temple) in Bhojshala; Cheraman Juma mosque (Arathali temple) in Kodungallur; Quwwat-Ul-Islam mosque (Rai Pithoura temple) in Delhi’s Qutub Minar complex; Adina mosque (Adina temple) in Malda; Jami mosque (Rudra Mahalay temple) in Sidhpur; Deval mosque (Jain Hindu temple) in Bodhan; and Khanqah-i-Mualla mosque (Kali temple) in Srinagar.
Later in 2011, as part of the Ayodhya movement, Tiwari filed a civil petition in the Supreme Court challenging the Allahabad High Court’s Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid 2010 verdict to trifurcate the disputed site in Ayodhya.
“He had said that there can be no compromise. This belongs to Ram and should be with him,” said Tiwari’s nephew, Guddan Shukla.
Reviving the Hindu Mahasabha and the fallout
Tiwari and his Hindu Tiger Force’s extremist push for the Ayodhya cause got him noticed by Dinesh Tyagi, the Hindu Mahasabha president at the time.
Tiwari moved to the Hindu nationalist organisation in 1998 and was soon shifted to its Delhi headquarters as the national executive president.
Guddan Shukla said he got many offers to lead from the front with BJP too, but he refused.
“He led many protests, events, dharnas while he was with the Hindu Mahasabha and did a door-to-door outreach programme across the country to propagate the idea of a Hindu Rashtra. He developed a huge following, which the BJP wanted to use,” he said.
“Tiwari also helped the BJP win elections in many states by campaigning for them and asking his followers to vote for the party,” he said.
Shukla added that Tiwari even “vouched for Yogi Adityanath’s appointment” as Uttar Pradesh chief minister in 2016 as he wanted a saffron-clad Hindu to sit on the chair. “Before Yogi was CM, he used to come and meet Tiwari, but now he is acting all ‘pricey’ and did not even come for his funeral.”
Hindu Samaj Party deputy president Priyanshu Joshi told ThePrint that it was Tiwari who revived the Hindu Mahasabha.
“It was in shambles. It was Tiwariji who gave his sweat and blood to revive it. He met many Hindu leaders, connected with scores of volunteers, made strategies and revived the party,” he said.
But Tiwari’s position in the organisation weakened in 2015 when he was booked under the National Security Act by the Akhilesh Yadav government over his controversial remarks about Prophet Mohammad. It led to violent protests by Muslim groups that called for Tiwari’s death.
Defending himself at the time, Tiwari had said that he was only responding to comments made by Azam Khan, a former Samajwadi Party MLA who had called RSS leaders “homosexuals” as they don’t marry.
Hindu Mahasabha distanced itself from Tiwari’s remarks after he was sent to jail.
“No one came to meet him in jail. No one gave a statement in his support. They used him to revive their party, make a strong base but left him in the lurch when he needed him the most,” Tiwari’s son Rishi told ThePrint.
After spending months in jail, Tiwari was released on bail. Upon his return, though, it was his turn to distance himself from the Hindu Mahasabha.
But his inflammatory activities didn’t stop by any measure.
While on bail, he spoke about building a temple for Godse, again leading to an uproar. He was sent back to jail.
“He always said that Godse was a nationalist but had been portrayed as a criminal. Scores of Hindus were mutilated in the Partition but (Mahatma) Gandhi kept watching… He (Gandhi) had to die,” said Rajesh Mani Tripathi.
“Godse did not hit him in the back but chest. He has also warned Gandhi thrice,” added Tripathi.
After coming out from jail, Tiwari floated Hindu Samaj Party in 2017. He also contested the Lok Sabha elections from Ayodhya earlier this year, but lost again.
His move came on the back of a declaration last year to organise a ‘kar seva’ for the construction of Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya. The Supreme Court reserved its judgment in the decades-old case last week.
‘Mussalmano Bharat Chhodo’
Last year, Tiwari started another movement — ‘Mussalmano Bharat Chhodo‘. This time, the idea was to campaign for the eviction of Muslims from India. For this ‘cause’, along with his party workers, he started a yatra to spread the idea and build a base in states across the country.
“His idea was that if the Partition happened on the basis of religion, then the Muslims have no business staying here. They are staying illegally and should leave,” said Rajesh Mani Tripathi, who was working with Tiwari on the movement.
“On the other hand, all Hindus from Pakistan and Bangladesh should come back. If Myanmar can do away with their Muslim population, then why can’t 85 per cent Hindus send these 15 per cent Muslims back?”
However, around this time, Tiwari also wrote to Uttar Pradesh principal secretary alleging threats to his life.
In the first phase completed this year, Tiwari’s team visited 18 states and was able to cover a good base in Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jhakhand, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh, said Tripathi.
“The idea was to bring people together by holding events, give speeches, give them literature to read to make them aware of our roots and why a Hindu Rashtra is important,” Tripathi said.
Tripathi called Tiwari’s murder a “sacrifice” for the cause. “Earlier, Tiwari gave his sweat, now he gave his blood. I am certain that it will rise and shine and achieve what it was created for.”
For Tiwari, though, the end of the road came before the ‘movement’ could fructify.
On Sunday, as party workers gathered at his Lucknow residence to pay their tributes, they recalled how he always insisted on arming every Hindu.
A party worker who didn’t want to be named said, “If he had a pistol, he would not have died today.”