Every Friday, a white gypsy with a saffron poster strapped to its windows wheels through the many spots in Gurugram where namaz is offered in the open. The poster has a painting of Bharat Mata with the bhagwa flag, a mission statement, mugshots of Indian freedom fighters, icons often associated with Hindu nationalism, and a picture of the car’s owner﹘Dinesh Thakur alias Dinesh Bharti.
The poster, under the ‘Jai Bharat Mata Vahini Sankalp’ (hail Bharat Mata Vahini resolution), in bold devanagari script mentions nine points, six directly referring to Muslims. And it is the third one﹘“to stop namaz land jihad”﹘that has been taking up most of Bharti’s time and efforts since February.
His name now synonymous with the anti-namaz protests in Gurugram, Bharti is just one of the many foot soldiers of several Hindutva outfits who turn up like clockwork at different sectors in Gurugram every Friday; their “success” measured by the reduction in the number of spots where namaz was offered in the open. There are only 20 such areas now, down from 150 three years ago and 37 two months ago, according to local residents.
We take a look at three faces, including Bharti, who have been among those leading the protests, their role in the controversy, and what they have in common.
Bharti: Builder, president of Bharat Mata Vahini
According to ACP Aman Yadav (Sadar), who detained Bharti more than twice as a preventive measure during the protests, he has been one of the main instigators at Sector 47. “The locals in Sector 47 had a problem with open namaz as they wanted a market to be built on the spot...However, some people from outside organisations, including Bharti, would come and get aggressive,” Yadav told Newslaundry, adding that he does not even stay around the sector in question. “Locals have also said that they would not call him, but he would turn up anyway.”
Bharti, in his late 40s and a father of four children, is now in jail after his remarks in Gurugram on December 3, when he ran up to a maulvi, blocked his way and yelled “namaaz nahin hoga yahaan (namaaz cannot happen here)”.
But Bharti holds the detentions as a badge of honor. Speaking to Newslaundry at his residence two Fridays ago, he said that he wants “to work for the good of the nation and be known for his work”.
Bharti has been detained more than twice as a preventive measure during the protests.
Bharti was a member of BJP’s district unit but did not hold any position, according to Raman Malik, BJP Haryana’s spokesperson.
Hailing from Rohtak, he studied in Delhi before moving to Gurugram, and realised that Muslims are a “threat” through his conversations with a sant during the eight years of his stay in Haridwar. “He told me to think about what I have to do in the future kyunki yeh humare kamal nahi khilne denge, humare gende todenge, aur hamari roti chinenge (because they will not let our lotuses bloom, pluck our marigolds, and snatch our livelihoods).”
He said that he has been associated with the BJP but across media reports, press releases, and conversations about Gurugram’s anti-namaz protests, Bharti is referred to as the president of the Bharat Mata Vahini.
But the Bharat Mata Vahini is yet to be officially registered. Bharti claimed he has more than 200 supporters in Gurugram but less than five “members”﹘he thinks if “members” are officially recognised they will be “targeted”.
According to Yadav, Bharti tries to use social media to mobilise people. His Facebook page, which is liked by 765 people, is listed as a “local business”, and his Twitter timeline is replete with similar appeals for support. He also posts interviews with news organisations and videos of him disrupting the Muslim prayers. The anti-namaz protests only gathered steam in October, and before they did, he was mostly posting about other issues considered close to Hindutva outfits such as cow protection, disputed histories.
Two weeks before his recent arrest, he sat below a framed image of Bharat Mata inside his house in Gurugram’s Civil Lines, hours after disrupting prayers in Sector 37. It was then that he claimed that the impounding of his two phones by the police had “disrupted” his construction business.
About the “lathis, sticks, and kulhadi (shovel)” in his car, he said that he feared that he would be “attacked”. “I don’t keep any weapons that are illegal,” he said, adding that the kulhadi may come in handy for “construction work” and something he did in a “love jihad” case. He claimed that he informs the police and local authorities before going to any area to disrupt namaz. “I work for the good of the nation. I want to be known for my work.”
About the lathis, sticks, and 'kulhadi' in his car, Bharti said that he feared that he would be “attacked”.
At the Govardhan Puja organised at a namaz spot in Sector 12A on November 5, Bharti had said he will carry a sword wherever namaz is being offered in the open. When Newslaundry asked him about this statement, he said that while he “won’t do anything to instigate riots,” he will “go with a sword if this issue escalates”.
Kulbhushan Bhardwaj: Lawyer, linked to Sanyukt Hindu Sangharsh Samiti
The Sanyukt Hindu Sangharsh Samiti, and its legal adviser Kulbhushan Bhardwaj, have been at the forefront of the anti-namaz agitation.
While the protests have been a confluence of various groups, the Samiti has been at the core of it all, formed in 2018 with the sole aim of stopping namaz in the open. It is an umbrella organisation in Gurugram with 22 Hindutva outfits, including VHP, Bajrang Dal, Hindu Kranti Jal, Arya Samaj, Gurgaon Vahini, Sanskar Bharti, Arya Shikshan, Arya Virghar and Sanathan Bharti.
Bhardwaj, 47, studied in a government school in Gurugram before going to Lucknow to pursue his LLB. An advocate practicing in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Bhardwaj was also the president of the District Bar Association in Gurugram, and has, among other cases, defended the 19-year-old man who shot at anti-CAA protesters near Jamia Millia Islamia in 2019. Currently, he resides in Sector 14 with his family.
Bhardwaj represented the 19-year-old, who shot at anti-CAA protesters outside Jamia Millia Islamia, in court.
A photo of him in an orange kurta is stamped on customised online greetings for various occasions on Twitter, where he has 76 followers and a display picture of him on a Royal Enfield, wearing the khaki shorts and cap associated with the RSS. In his Facebook profile picture, he stands next to Narendra Modi in what appears to be a photoshopped image. He shares articles highlighting the situation at the namaz sites even when they don’t necessarily show him in a good light.
Unlike Bharti, Bhardwaj is careful to specify, while talking to the media, that he is not against Muslims or namaz, but only against these prayers being offered in the open. “We will not let namaz happen in the open at any cost. The protest will go on,” he told Newslaundry.
The Samiti organised the Govardhan Puja in Sector 12A after which no namaz was offered there. But according to Bhardwaj, it is the local residents who had reached out to them for help to stop the Muslim prayers on the spot.’
“This country works with rules,” said Bhardwaj, defending the disruptions by the Samiti every Friday. “Even if the Muslims come to pray for just 15 minutes, should we stop our kids from playing in the parks and grounds they come to for those 15 minutes? Should we stop walking around in the open?”
While the protests were initially catching steam in new Gurugram, they soon spilled over to old Gurugram. And according to Bhardwaj, after the “success” of the agitation, the Samiti has been receiving calls from nearby villages such as in Manesar. He also claimed that he got a call from someone requesting their intervention in an area in Gujarat.
But, according to Altaf Ahmed, co-founder of the civic group Gurgaon Nagrik Ekta Manch, the agitation moved to old Gurugram because there were more cadres there. “The people they tried to activate in Sector 47 (new Gurugram) were mostly retired people...they pushed them but eventually realised it’s difficult to get them to do what their people can do...So they moved their protest campaign to old Gurugram.”
Ahmed said that “since the Samiti is an umbrella body of 22 right-wing groups, they already have some sort of cadre available on the ground”. “If you open the umbrella, you will see who the parties are and their agendas.”
Bhardwaj was suspended as the acting district BJP president earlier this year, reportedly due to “anti-party politics”.
“He is trying to get active in such situations so that he can make his way back to the BJP,” said Mufti Saleem of the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, who submitted a complaint against the lawyer two weeks ago. Bhardwaj, along with two others, was accused of “making provocative statements in public with the intention of promoting enmity against Islam”.
But Bhardwaj asserted that “this is not mine or the Samiti’s issue”. “This is society’s issue...if there is unemployment, do people start looting banks?...even if there is no place for namaz, can they start occupying roads?”
Amit Hindu: ‘No income’, associated with ‘Bajrang Dal’
It was hard to get in touch with Hindu, who claims to be a part of the Bajrang Dal, on Fridays in recent weeks as he was often in preventive custody. He says he has lost track of the number of times he has been detained﹘last for protesting at Sector 37 on December 3.
Hindu, a resident of Gurugram’s sector 45, said he doesn’t befriend Muslims as “their feelings are wrong”.
Amit Hindu says he has no source of income.
At the Govardhan puja organised at the namaz spot in Sector 12A, he shouted “desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalo ko”. Hindu said that he was referring to “traitors” who celebrate Pakistan’s cricket match victories with enthusiasm in India, but “even those who are offering namaz in the open are gaddaar”. “If you cut one vein of your body, it will stop your whole body. Similarly, if you block one road in the country, the whole country will stop.”
Whether it is the disruptions against namaz in Sector 47 or Sector 12A, Hindu leads with his aggression and war cries, as seen by Newslaundry.
Following the sloganeering on November 5 by the likes of Hindu, Muslim groups raised the issue with Yash Garg, Gurguram’s deputy commisioner. Referring to Hindu’s slogans, the groups, in the complaint, demanded “immediate action” and asked Garg to take cognizance of the “provocative speeches and slogans made against Muslims”. However, no action was taken by either police or the district administration.
Last week, hours after he was released from police custody, Hindu uploaded a photo﹘with a religiously-charged song in the backdrop﹘of the protest where the police physically restrained him from going any further. The next day, news clips of his bytes during the demonstrations were shared as posts on his Instagram, where he has 490 followers. With an orange scarf wrapped around his neck, Hindu stands up, shouting at the screen, while others huddle around him, letting him do all the talking with the media.
According to Hindu, he has no source of income and works with the Bajrang Dal and its mission everyday. As per a 2018 article in the Hindustan Times, Hindu was trained as a wrestler at an linked to the RSS in his village.
In his photos on social media, he is seen posing with firebrand Hindutva leaders such as Dasna priest Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati. His Instagram account has pictures of him attending a Shastra Puja organised by the Bajrang Dal’s Gurugram unit this year. Hindu has also posted pictures of him at rallies in support of the controversial citizenship law.
He also claimed to be a part of BJP’s Gurugram unit, calling himself the district vice president of the youth cell on his social media account in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Hindu also shared BJP posters and pictures of welcoming Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar at an event. The party’s spokesperson, Raman Malik, said that while he does not recollect seeing Hindu at the BJP’s events in the district, “there are many members”.
A weekly guide to the best of our stories from our editors and reporters. Note: Skip if you're a subscriber. All subscribers get a weekly, subscriber-only newsletter by default.