Political pulse | Sangeet Som lost the polls but his ‘Sena’ makes its presence felt
The multi-storey house of BJP strongman Sangeet Som in the town of Sardhana in Meerut looked deserted. In a small room upstairs sat Sachin Khatik, scrolling through his phone.
Khatik is the leader of the Sangeet Som Sena and is among 10 people charged with assaulting and robbing a biryani vendor on April 2 for ignoring the outfit’s call to ban the sale of meat in Sardhana during Navratri festival. Saajid, the owner of the food cart, claimed that although he was selling soy biryani, the group insisted it contained meat.
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The incident struck fear across the city, forcing butcher shops to close and restaurant owners to remove meats from the menu.
Said Khatik, “A day before Navratri, we submitted a memorandum that meat should not be sold. Saturday I went to the food cart and told him (Saajid) to pack it and go home. I warned him three times but he didn’t listen. Then we had to take matters into our own hands. We cannot allow anyone to vitiate the atmosphere.
In a video that has gone viral on social media, a suspected Som Sena leader was heard threatening a police officer after the incident. “I am very direct with the police. If they do their duty, I congratulate them. In this case, I told the commander (circle officer) in a manner deemed appropriate that non-vegetarian food was being sold despite our warnings. Ultimately, it’s about the atmosphere in the region.
Som, the former Sardhana MP who lost the election this time, lambasted the police for booking his supporters. “I was told that the head of Som Sena was booked by officials even when a memorandum against the sale of non-vegetarian food was given. It is clear that the police are working in cahoots and the meat has been cleared for sale,” he told The Indian Express.
Sardhana circle officer Rajendra Shahi said the police were taking action “against anyone who creates a problem in the area”. He added: “Anyone can declare their own Sena. Everything has to work within the law. The case is being investigated and there are no public order issues in the area.
Khatik, who leads a jagran mandli group that sings bhajans at religious gatherings, said he launched Som Sena in June 2016 as a Facebook page to publicize the BJP leader’s work. Now, he claimed, it has seven lakh members.
“Like many others, I was very impressed with Sangeet Som’s determination to work for Hindus. When I started the band, I didn’t know if it would be supported. But there were many like me. Today, the Sena has over seven lakh members in several states. Our philosophy is to ensure that the Hindu community is not insulted. And we are ready to take all measures for this,” added the 29-year-old, who claims to have vowed not to marry and to devote his life to the cause of Hindutva.
Most Som Sena members are between 18 and 40 years old. Khatik said while most were day laborers, some were students at local universities. The group holds a monthly meeting, but most of its daily schedule – from protecting cows to playing devotional songs in public over loudspeakers – is discussed on WhatsApp. Information about incidents that the group perceives to be anti-Hindu is then shared through local networks. The group claims to have a presence in Delhi and Uttarakhand, among other states, and an official in each district of Uttar Pradesh.