By Dhirendra K Jha
Muthalik has been able to exercise greater control over what is known about him than almost any other Karnataka politician because he spent his childhood and youth being schooled in RSS ideology. He hasn’t won an election and has thus avoided any minute scrutiny that would have made it difficult for him to conceal personal information. We know about him either through his claims about himself or what the courts have revealed about him.
Unsurprisingly, he has been a frequent occupant of a jail cell. ‘The first time I went to jail was in 1975 when Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency. I was arrested because I was working as an underground member of the RSS.’ He was around twenty years old at that time and had just completed his graduation. ‘I was detained in Belgaum Jail for about a month and I came out of it as a full-time pracharak of the RSS.’ After that, being in prison became a regular affair for him. By the end of 2015, when we met, he had lost count of the number of times he had been arrested.
Muthalik said his real journey began only after he was thrown behind bars. ‘It was in Belgaum Jail that I got the opportunity to interact with some of the senior RSS leaders in Karnataka. The ideology was not new to me. My father used to attend the RSS shakha regularly and so I grew up in that very background. But the discussions I had with RSS leaders in jail shaped my relationship with Hindutva so much that I decided to work for this ideology for the whole of my life.’
Muthalik seemed reluctant to discuss all that he did ‘for the sake of Hindutva’ during the next seventeen years. His only observation was: ‘I travelled on the path I found in jail, working as a pracharak and carrying out the responsibilities given to me by the RSS at different places in the country.’ In 1993 he was shifted to the RSS’s rather flamboyant cultural outfit, the VHP. But his real journey – the one he had ‘longed for’ – began in 1994. ‘On one fine morning that year, [the VHP leader] Ashok Singhal called me and asked me to organize the Bajrang Dal’s unit in Karnataka,’ he said. ‘Working as the head of an organization in my state was something I had always wanted to do. I, therefore, immediately accepted Singhal’s proposal. I was made the convener of the Bajrang Dal in Karnataka.’
Within a few years, the Bajrang Dal spread its roots in the state, particularly in its northern and coastal regions. ‘In 1997, we organized a Bajrang Dal conference which was attended by over 3000 members,’ Muthalik said. ‘In 2001, I was made the Bajrang Dal’s convener for the four south Indian states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.’ Partly because of the activities of the Bajrang Dal, the BJP registered an impressive performance in the Karnataka assembly elections of 2004 – it got seventy-nine seats in 224 constituencies, marking a huge improvement over forty-four seats in the 1999 polls and forty in 1994. ‘More than half
the MLAs who won in 2004 had come from a Bajrang Dal background. The RSS too benefited from our activities. Its shakhas rapidly spread in villages during those years.’
The enhancement of Muthalik’s status in the Sangh Parivar following the results of the 2004 polls proved to be short-lived. ‘That was the first time I was seen by many in the Karnataka BJP as a threat,’ he claimed. Before long his newfound glory led to his isolation in the Parivar. ‘Rumours began to circulate that I was of loose character and that I was using the organization to make money. I met the top leaders of the Sangh and tried to clear the air but by then they had got carried away by rumours,’ he said.
Muthalik left the Bajrang Dal in 2005 to try his luck at other organizations. The first to grab his attention was the Shiv Sena. He held meetings with Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena chief, and set out to organize the party’s units in Karnataka. ‘At first it was a relief for me. In some ways life was better there. My ideology matched with that of the Shiv Sena and Bal Thackeray gave me a free hand in Karnataka,’ he said.
Belgaum, where Muthalik lived, has a strong Marathi population, and forming the Shiv Sena’s units there may not have posed a big challenge. Within months, Muthalik started getting a good response from locals and Shiv Sena units soon started opening up in other parts of the state. ‘And then, even before the Shiv Sena could get a proper foothold in Karnataka, I suddenly realized that it could not go any further,’ he said. ‘There erupted a tussle between Marathi and Kannada language fanatics. Belgaum, which was claimed by Maharashtra as part of its cultural zone, became the centre of this debate. Kannada language groups started disrupting the Shiv Sena’s meetings, and working for that party in Karnataka just became impossible.’
Muthalik suspected that all this was orchestrated by the Sangh Parivar, which didn’t want to let a second Hindutva party develop roots in Karnataka. In 2006, the Shiv Sena’s fate in Karnataka was sealed, and Muthalik left the party with all his friends and associates. ‘It was a big shock. I again started thinking about how to remain relevant.’ The same year he formed a political party, the Rashtriya Hindu Sena, and close on its heels, registered the Sri Ram Sene as a trust.
Excerpted with the permission of Juggernaut from the book Shadow Armies: Fringe Organizations and Foot Soldiers of Hindutva by Dhirendra K Jha.
Shadow Armies: Fringe Ogranizations and Foot Soldiers of Hindutva is available in book stores and on www.juggernaut.in