Kamlesh Tiwari Had Little Tolerance for Muslims, But He Wasn’t Fond of BJP and RSS Either
The story of the Hindu Samaj Party president, who was brutally murdered last week, is one that portrays the inner ideological conflicts and contradictions in the Hindutva-espousing ecosystem, personal political aspirations and a life driven by religious prejudice.
File photo of slain Hindutva leader Kamlesh Tiwari.
Lucknow: As a class 12 student, he was one among thousands of right-wing activists who had gathered in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 when the Babri Masjid was torn down even as top leaders from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stood there making provocative speeches and egging on the vandals. The very leaders who were symbols of inspiration for a young Kamlesh Tiwari later became betrayers for him when it came to the causes of Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra.
From 1992 to the day in 2019 when his end came, Kamlesh Tiwari’s is a story that portrays the inner ideological conflicts and contradictions in the Hindutva- espousing brigade, personal political aspirations and a life driven by religious intolerance.
Kamlesh was attacked inside his office in Lucknow’s Khurshed Bagh locality on Friday. The assailants slit his throat, then took out a pistol from a box of sweets and shot him. He died while undergoing treatment in hospital. Uttar Pradesh’s Director General of Police OP Singh told the media that three people had been taken into custody by a joint team of the UP and Gujarat police in connection with the murder. The accused were identified as Maulana Mohsin Sheikh, Khurshid Ahmed Pathan, and Faizan.
As investigations continue into the murder of the Hindu Samaj Party president, focus is also on who this man was whose killing has made headlines in national media and why his family says it does not have complete faith in the ruling BJP in UP.
Born in Para Kothba village of UP’s Sitapur district in the early 1970s, Kamlesh’s family shifted to nearby Mahmoodabad town in 1980 after his father got a job as a priest at the local Ram-Janki temple. The family came to stay at the accommodation provided within the shrine. Kamlesh grew up there during the heyday of the Ram temple movement in Ayodhya.
Dharmraj Tiwari, his classmate from Mahmoodabad and close collaborator in several of his future political endeavours, says, “Kamlesh was highly influenced by the ongoing Ram temple movement spearheaded by the VHP during the 1980s. When calls of kar seva were given in 1992, Kamlesh and I were in class 12, but age didn’t deter us from reaching Ayodhya.”
“Led by Kamlesh, we were among the kar sevaks who took part in the demolition,” Dharmraj claims. “We had joined the RSS-affiliated outfit Bajrang Dal by then. RSS and BJP leaders spearheading the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation were our role models.”
However, this appreciation for the Sangh Parivar was short-lived. In the years following the demolition as the issue got tangled in a legal battle and the BJP-RSS took a strategic backward shift, keeping political compulsions in mind, Kamlesh became increasingly of the view that the outfits were compromising the cause of Hindutva for political purposes. This prompted him to experiment with constituting the Hindu Tiger Force – a weakly knit organisation comprising radicalised Hindu youths driven by fanaticism and religious intolerance. Kamlesh, who had a liking for leading from the front and had the ability to provoke through his communally charged speeches, became a self-styled ‘supreme commander’ of the organisation.
From 1995 to 1998, the Tiger Force made several attempts to garner attention, but failed. A disillusioned Kamlesh, along with his men, then joined the Hindu Mahasabha.
Between 1998 and 2010, he rose through the ranks of the Mahasabha. He went on to become its state president and then its national working president for a brief period. He also shifted to Lucknow with hopes of carving out a larger political image.
Kamlesh was moderately successful in this effort as his recognition as a fiery orator grew through his virulent remarks. However, his political career again hit a speed bump when he was sacked from the Hindu Mahasabha in 2010. Factionalism within the party saw him losing control and being ousted.
In 2011, Kamlesh again came under the spotlight as he decided to become a petitioner in the Supreme Court in the Ayodhya dispute. He became ‘applicant number six’ when challenges were filed against the 2010 orders of the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court that said the land should be equally divided among the three main parties in the title suit: Sunni Central Waqf Board, Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla Virajman.
However, as the case remained pending before the top court till 2017, it did not receive much notice. But in 2015, intense focus came back on Kamlesh Tiwari, after he made derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad. His statements sparked communal tensions and angry protests from Muslims. The-then Akhliesh Yadav government had him arrested and put behind bars under the stringent National Security Act (NSA). The Allahabad high court quashed the provisions against him in 2016 and he was released on bail.
That same year, he stoked controversy yet again after declaring plans to build a temple in the memory of Nathuram Godse, the man who was hanged for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Kamlesh wanted to lay the foundation stone of the temple in his native village in Sitapur on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti, October 2.
This led to his arrest and imprisonment yet again. Before this, he had once also attacked the office of a national news channel in Lucknow, accusing it of being “anti-Hindu” in its reporting. He had faced legal action in that case.
Over the years, Kamlesh had eight criminal cases slapped against him. Five of them were in Lucknow, two in Ayodhya and one in Varanasi. All of these cases were related to spreading communal unrest, disruption of peace and violence.
After being released from jail in 2017, Kamlesh increasingly became of the view that he needed to have a political party of his own. His political colleague and national general secretary of Hindu Samaj Party, Rajesh Mani Tripathi, says, “We and Kamlesh were of the opinion that we needed to have a political party in order to give a reliable alternative to the BJP. With this vision in mind, HSP was formed in 2017. Kamlesh also contested as a party candidate from the Ayodhya Vidhan Sabha seat in 2017.”
Though Kamlesh performed miserably in the elections, he now had a political outfit of his own. After the polls, as the BJP came to power, his challenges increased. First, his security, provided during Akhilesh Yadav’s government, was almost completely withdrawn. In place of 12 policemen, he was with just one constable at the time of the attack. His party colleagues claim this was done with the intent to restrict his movement and slow the functioning of the Hindu Samaj Party.
Kamlesh, too, felt threatened by this drastic cut in his security cover. Associates say he frequently alleged that BJP leaders wanted him to get killed by Muslim fundamentalists.
Kamlesh’s murder has come as a challenge for the state’s BJP government. There is a sense of injustice among Hindutva activists. Devendra Shukla, a right-wing leader, says, “The Brahmin community in particular is pained by Tiwari’s murder. We want a free and fair investigation in the case. It was unfortunate that his security cover was reduced despite a high threat perception.”
Speaking to reporters at the BJP office in Indore on Sunday, Uttar Pradesh deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya supported the police investigation and findings. “Kamlesh Tiwari murder case has been cracked,” he said. “The truth of this incident has almost come out before the country.”
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