South Asia Citizens Wire
30 April 2003


by Lalita Ramdas
(in Alibag, Maharashtra, India)

On April 16 2003, Praveen Togadia [Gen Sec VHP] was billed to be the star speaker at a `VIRAAT DHARMA SABHAí to be held on the premises of an English language school in ROHA the adjacent block to Alibag. Our little district town was full of saffron banners carrying the announcement. We thought we might drive down to listen and educate ourselves.

In the event, Togadia was arrested for making inflammatory speeches and distribution of Trishuls in Rajasthan just a few days prior to his arrival in our district. However, inquiries revealed that the Roha `Dharma Sabhaí was to be held nonetheless, and would be addressed by Swami Dharmendra. So we decided that two colleagues would attend the event and bring us the feed-back. What follows below is based on an eyewitness account.

First ñ the setting: A huge stage set up in the grounds of the Raathee College in Roha. The back drop was a huge picture of the projected Ram Mandir at Ayodhya in the centre, flanked on one side by a larger-than-life size poster painting of the encounter between Shivaji and Afzal Khan ñ in all its gory detail of steel claws ñ daggers and blood ñ and on the other, an equally large poster of Lord Ram. Smaller size colour posters of the Shivaji-Afzal encounter were distributed as `free-beesí to all those who attended ñ it is enough to send shivers down the spine ñ and fill the minds of our Muslim brothers and sisters with understandable fear and foreboding.

Group singing and recordings of bhajans and slokas in Marathi and Hindi ñ covering a repertoire of favourites of Shivaji, Satya Sai Baba, and others, dedicated to a number of deities which included Devi, Shankar, Ganpathi and Ram Lalla, kept the audience entertained. From all accounts this was the only remotely `religiousí touch in the entire evening! The volume of the sound system was turned up to the maximum, and drowned out all else for about 45 minutes or so as the crowd filled up and they waited for the Guest of Honor ñ Acharya Dharmendra - to arrive.

The audience seemed to comprise primarily young men (estimates vary from about 1500 to 2000) ñ with a sprinkling of saffron sari clad young women volunteers ñ who were showing people to their seats ñ making announcements etc. According to our source, `they appeared to be jobless young males between the ages of 15 ñ 25 who were probably `truckedí in from a number of outlying villagesí.

The arrival of every special invitee was heralded by the playing of the traditional `dholí and setting off of fireworks ñ which were at their loudest at the arrival of the Acharya Dharmendra ñ the Chief speaker for the evening who was substituting for Togadia. Most of the special guests on the dais were representatives of the regional VHP or RSS or Shiv Sena,

Basically the Acharya and his colleagues made a series of virulent speeches where the primary message, in sum and substance, was that the holy duty of Hindu Youth ñ [in fact of the Hindu clan as a whole] ñ was to kill and finish off the Muslims ñ the `offspring of the traitor Afzal Khaní who were scattered across the Konkan region, and elsewhere across the country ñ and work with one aim in mind ñ namely to establish a Hindu Rashtra.

It is educative to be walked through the main arguments ñ which were clever as they were comprehensive. The speakers who preceded the Acharya set the scene as it were by repetitive reaffirmation of some basic trends:

Acharya Dharmendra basically focused on the theme of Hindutva and its importance;

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