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Time to re-investigate the foreign funding of Hindu fundamentalists

by Teesta Setalvad, 16 February 2009

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Communalism Combat, February 2009

Gujarat: A missing link

Swami Ashim Anand goes underground

In November 2008, days before Swami Ashim Anand (variously called Swami Aseemanand or Asheemanand) went underground, a Gujarati daily carried reports that the Maharashtra ATS was on the lookout for him. The Dangs in South Gujarat, where the Swami has nurtured his base, has seen a spate of attacks against Christians from 1998 onwards and also, more recently, against Muslims in 2008. The Swami was at the epicentre of the attacks against Christians, their homes and churches in December 1999.

Swami Ashim Anand is documented by sangh activists as being part of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram in Gujarat. Ashwin Modi, former president of the Surat unit of the Bajrang Dal, identified the Swami as being part of the "Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad, an organisation affiliated to the VHP". Sections of the national media have previously identified Swami Ashim Anand as being "the national president" of the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad and have reported on his presence in the Dangs district as follows: "After coming to Waghai… the Swami had spearheaded the formation of Bajrang Dal units in every village."

With the grisly terror link widening its base into Gujarat, critical issues for the investigating authorities remain. Of particular concern is the crucial matter of the funding that these outfits receive, as there is reasonable evidence to suggest that many of these organisations receive funds from overseas affiliates. The moot question is whether this foreign funding is used to fuel not just hate speech and violence but now terrorism as well. Another question concerns the organisational support base for such terror attacks, given the fact that the international general secretary of the VHP, Dr Praveen Togadia, has been named in the Nanded blast investigations as one of those responsible for exhorting youth to action. And the spotlight now falls on the Swami.

The linking of Swami Ashim Anand with the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad, his mandate being the creation of Bajrang Dal units in the tribal villages of Gujarat, provides a vital link to a major nodal development agency, the India Development Relief Fund (IDRF). ‘The Foreign Exchange of Hate’, a 2002 report collectively researched by Indians in the United States under the banner of the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate (CSFH), has extensively probed these links. It is time to revisit these links today.

In a report on his visit to Gujarat and to the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad ashram at Waghai, Chetan Gandhi, a former vice-president of the IDRF, stated that Swami Ashim Anand was in charge of the ashram’s activities in the district and that he was well respected by the community. It is not difficult to explain the presence of an IDRF vice-president in Gujarat or his reporting on the activities of the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad in Waghai. The Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad has been a direct beneficiary of the IDRF, having been listed as an IDRF-supported project in Gujarat.

Documentation also exists to demonstrate the IDRF’s support for other sangh parivar organisations, such as Sewa Bharti, the Ekal Vidyalayas and Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, implicated in the violence against minorities in Madhya Pradesh. In 2002 Sewa Bharti, an IDRF-funded organisation, was implicated in anti-Christian violence in Madhya Pradesh, which in fact led to the then Congress state government under Digvijay Singh revoking the organisation’s licence. Similarly, activists belonging to the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad in Kotda (another organisation also directly supported by the IDRF) led a campaign of terror against the Muslim families in Juda village that resulted in their large-scale migration to neighbouring villages.

The anti-Muslim pogroms that took place in the state of Gujarat in 2002 saw extensive and active participation by the Adivasis in the violence against Muslims. Several commentators have noted the role played by the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad and the Vivekananda Kendra in actively communalising the tribal mind and creating an anti-Muslim ethos. Again, the pertinent connection here is that both organisations are funded by the IDRF.

The period from 1998 to 2000 saw a spate of anti-Christian violence in the tribal belts of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. For several months now Orissa has once again been reeling under the effects of this communal poison as Christians have been mercilessly targeted.

In Gujarat, the laying of infrastructure for conversion-related violence is attributed to Swami Ashim Anand. For the two years (1998, 1999) that he was active in the Dangs, not only did the Swami conduct forcible reconversions of tribals to Hinduism but he also spread terror among the local Christians by organising large-scale aggressively militant Hindu rallies on Christmas Eve and Good Friday in tribal villages with significant Christian populations.