Ahmedabad, May 5: When Godhra MLA Haresh Bhatt first floated the idea of firearms training for Sangh workers in the late 1980s, many had ridiculed the notion.
Almost 16 years later, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad is ready to inaugurate a training camp for its own cadre on May 17 in Patan, north Gujarat.
Bhatt, a former air force officer and a new Sangh recruit back then, had started the first such camp for Bajrang Dal workers on May 24, 1987. There were only seven fresh Dal recruits at the camp; the Dal itself was only a year old then.
Bhatt’s only backer was state VHP general secretary Dr Vaniker.
After Bhatt defied opposition to train the seven youths in seclusion in Sarkhej, his “innovative idea” caught on as the Ram temple movement gathered momentum.
Firearms training gained acceptance and the VHP managed to rope in other former army and police officers as instructors. Today, every state unit of the VHP organises rifle training camps for Dal workers.
The camps have become so popular among Dal youths, especially in Gujarat, that it has become essential to “meticulously screen the participants on the basis of their commitment to Hindutva’’, training coordinator Kaushik Mehta said.
The VHP, flooded with pleas from various districts to participate in the camps, has announced it will be impossible to accommodate more than five youths from each prakhand, the outfit’s basic unit, and more than 200 from each region where the camps will be held.
The rules to gain admission to the camps are rigid. Youths interested in firearms training should have undergone the trishul diksha (trident initiation). Those who have cleared the diksha get priority over other volunteers to the camps.
The camps, to be organised at Patan and Baroda in the backdrop of the state’s worst communal riots early last year, have scared the minority community here, a minority leader said.
“It is a frightening development as we see it as yet another sign of aggression,” he said, requesting anonymity.
The fear and hopelessness is so pervasive that minority community leaders feel complaining to state authorities would be pointless.
Human rights organisations, too, have become immobilised as they do nothing beyond making statements, they said.
Dalit leader Valji Patel considers the VHP’s scheduled firearms camps a “ dangerous thing”. That is the only way the Sangh outfit can consolidate its Hindu base, he said.
After capturing power, the VHP wants to terrorise Muslims so that they are provoked into retaliating, Patel said. This would help the VHP propagate its ideology, he said.
The VHP, however, insists that the emphasis on arms training this year is in view of threats to the life of several outfit and Dal workers. “It (the camps) is not directed against any community,’’ the VHP says.
Instructor Nirab Bhatt dispelled the apprehensions of the minority community, saying the youths are also taught yoga, judo and karate at the camps and told that all religions are equal. “But our problem is that the media has projected us as a villain involved in destructive activities, which is not true,” he said.