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VHP crown for Gujarat mob leader

Ahmedabad, Feb. 28: Muslims fear him. He calls himself a devout Hanuman bhakt and social reformer. And the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has made him a dharmacharya, a post specially created for him.

Meet Babubhai Patel, alias Babu Bajrangi, whom police have identified as one of those who led the mob that burned alive 89 people in Naroda-Patia two years ago on this day.

Bajrangi, who has been in the Bajrang Dal for the last 15 years, was appointed dharmacharya of Ahmedabad city last Sunday and is no longer with the outfit of which he was Naroda unit general secretary until recently. The Hanuman bhakt has been assigned the task of reconverting Hindus who had embraced Islam and Christianity — a job he goes about with great zeal.

Bajrangi, 41, denies his involvement in the Naroda-Patia killings, saying he was not in town then. Even so, he was arrested and jailed three months after the massacre sparked by the torching of 59 people in a coach of the Sabarmati Express at Godhra the previous day. More than 1,000 people were killed in the riots that swept Gujarat after the Godhra carnage.

The dharmacharya was set free after six months and four days.

Basking in his new-found fame and comfortable with his new identity, Bajrangi is a law onto himself as he goes about pursuing his social agenda. The leader claims to have got 506 Hindu girls who had eloped with Muslim boys remarried.

Bajrangi faces many criminal cases including abduction and murder. But for many Hindu parents who sought his help in “rescuing’’ their daughters from Muslim youth — something he has been doing for 11 years — he is like a god.

Bharati Sevani, 44, is one such mother. Bajrangi’s men did everything to bring back her daughter. “The influence of politicians did not work. Police could do nothing. But we approached him (Bajrangi) and he handled the case very well. Our daughter is now happily remarried,’’ said Bharati, who belongs to a well-to-do family.

The Bajrang Dal leader says he has “rescued’’ Hindu girls from as far as Jammu, Mumbai and Pune, adding that it was not always easy to persuade the girls to return. He would land up there, often posing as a Dawood Ibrahim gang member, use muscle power and thrash the Muslim husbands in order to “rescue” the girls.

In Sabarmati jail, where he was lodged with criminals and underworld members, Bajrangi claims to have thrashed Haji Bilal and Mohammed Kalota, the prime accused in the Godhra carnage. He boasts of having beaten up some members of the Chhota Rajan and Dawood gangs lodged in the same jail.

It is no surprise therefore that he was targeted by Dawood’s henchmen in October last year. He was fired upon, but escaped unhurt. Ever since, the Gujarat government has deputed a policeman and a commando to be by his side round the clock.

After the carnage, six Muslim families who lived near his colony in Naroda, about a kilometre from Naroda-Patia, fled and did not return.

“They cannot come back,’’ says Bajrangi, who admits Muslims fear him.

He has some advice for those Muslims who do not want to fear him any longer: convert to Hinduism. Bajrangi says he is trying to bring some Hindus who had embraced Islam over a century ago back into the Hindu fold. “If they do not convert to Hinduism, Muslims are going to be a liability,’’ he declares.

Bajrangi, who studied only till Class 10, also has a formula for communal harmony. “Hindus worship many god and goddesses .We do not mind worshipping Allah if Muslims convert to Hinduism and accept Ram (as) their God,” he says. It is not known what VHP leaders think of this.

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