In 2014, soon after Narendra Modi became prime minister, a group of men belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh occupied a patch of land on the banks of the Yamuna in Delhi, where they built a gaushala, or cow shelter. Three years later, the shelter has grown to accommodate nearly two dozen cattle, and also attracts a regular flow of donations. However, the group that set the shelter up has now split, fuelling a bitter rivalry over who actually owns the shelter.

The Shri Kalindi Gaushala at Gyaspur falls under the Sarai Kale Khan municipal ward.

“Being close to the Yamuna, this patch was marshy and full of bushes when I, along with some swayamsevaks [RSS activists] started clearing the land and developed it for a gaushala about three years back,” said Balraj, one of the shelter’s claimants, who is a member of the RSS and was once a pracharak (those in charge of spreading the RSS message). “We laboured hard, levelled the plain, constructed the cow shelter, brought stray cattle and made the gaushala functional,” he said. He added that in the beginning, other RSS swayamsevaks, including Sanjay Basista, helped him. Later, claimed Balraj, Basista became inactive in the running and maintenance of the shelter.

“Balraj is lying,” said Basista emphatically. “He is lying in the hope that this will make him appear to be the real owner of the gaushala.”

Basista claimed that it was he who started the gaushala while Balraj took charge only when it became operational.

The cow shelter on the banks of the Yamuna in Delhi. Photo credit: Dhirendra K Jha.

Like Balraj, Basista is also an active member of the RSS as well as a local leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

While Balraj claimed that the patch of around 1,000 square yards on which the gaushala stands falls in the floodplains of Yamuna and is government land, Basista insisted that his family has been cultivating that land for decades, and that despite being declared an encroacher by the Delhi Development Authority, he is fighting a case against the authority to secure his right to farm that piece of land. “I thought swayamsevaks would come here and serve cows, but they have grown ambitious,” said Basista. “I did not imagine that they would try to become owners of the gaushala.”

‘Fight over money’

As the deadlock continues, Balraj and the group of swaymsevaks with him have turned to higher-ups in the RSS in their bid to put pressure on Basista to give up his claim on the shelter.

“I met Rameshji of the RSS and told him about the whole issue,” said Gaurav Baghel, a swayamsevak close to Balraj, and an active member of the BJP’s youth wing in Delhi. “We are also planning to meet other state level leaders of the RSS and the BJP to prevent Sanjay [Basista] from staking a claim over the gaushala.”

Balraj, one of the claimants of the cow shelter. Photo credit: Dhirendra K Jha.

Ramesh is the person in charge of the RSS’s Lajpat Nagar division in South Delhi. He confirmed that he had received a complaint from “swayamsevaks close to Balraj-ji”, but refused to take any side given the “complicated nature” of the dispute.

“I have informed the senior office-bearers of the Sangh because both sides have people close to us,” he said. “Let us see what happens.”

Balraj said that Basista just wanted the gaushala for the money it brought in. “The fight is not over the gaushala,” he said. “It is over the collection of donations in the name of cows.”

Basista, in turn, argued that it was “Balraj’s greed” that led to the fight over the gaushala.

Sanjay Basista claims his family has cultivated the land the cow shelter stands on for decades. Photo credit: Dhirendra K Jha.