Column : Beware the loony fringe

Written by Nistula Hebbar | Nistula Hebbar | Updated: Oct 15 2011, 07:21am hrs
It has been a couple of days since the shocking visuals of Supreme Court advocate and Team Anna member Prashant Bhushan being roughed up by activists allegedly belonging to fringe outfits like Shaheed Bhagat Singh Sena and the Ram Sene were aired. As the case unravelled, pictures of one of the main accused in the incident, Tejinder Pal Singh Bagga, with senior leaders of the BJP surfaced, and it was discovered that Bagga had been for some time a member of the partys youth wing in the past.

A couple of years ago, pictures of Sadhvi Pragyamain accused in the Malegaon blast casewith senior BJP leaders also made the rounds.

The party wasneedless to sayembarrassed by these links, at a time when there has been not just the attempt to take advantage of the anti-corruption plank put forward by Team Anna, but there is also the hope that a 1977 or a 1989 kind of umbrella coalition against the Congress could be attempted again.

Violent attacks by fringe groups of the Right and the Left are not uncommon in political systems across the world. But with the Indian Right, represented by the BJP, the mainstreaming of fringe elements has always been an issue. Some of the problems arise because the growth of the Indian Right, after the demise of the Swatantra Party, has been a product of the complex relationship between the BJP, which sees itself as a political party, and its ideological mothership, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), which proudly declares that it is a cultural organisation.

Contrary to popular interpretations of Indian political history, it was the C Rajagopalachari-led Swatantra Party that was Indias first legitimate Right-wing party with a defined economic agenda. The Jan Sangh was a bit player for long, and acknowledged as a public, political offshoot of the RSS, which was seeing rough times in independent India because of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.

The soft Hindutva plank actually belonged to the Congress itself, which had leaders like Purushottam Das Tandon who led the anti-cow slaughter movement against his own partys government in Uttar Pradesh.

The RSS and the Jan Sangh, and later the BJP, thus spent the better part of the last 40 years trying to get to this pole in Indian politics. The RSS realised after the bleak years following the Mahatmas assassination that a political party was needed to mainstream the organisations ideas. For years, the RSS-BJP link has been a parental umbilical cord. Sometimes the BJP has tugged hard at it and sometimes felt rather comforted in the RSSs amniotic embrace.

Where the problems lies for the BJP, even more than the RSS's parental control, is in the baggage that comes with the saffron outfit. In recent years, this has acquired a more sinister hue, with allegations of saffron terror being laid at its door. As the frontline political outfit, accountable through elections, the BJP has had to field all these questions that also undermine its stated position on terrorism. Under its umbrella, the RSS has not just the BJP but a host of extreme outfits that are collectively referred to as the saffron Parivar.

The problem lies in the fact that these outfitsthe Bajrang Dal, Abhinav Bharat or even the Kamal Club which Bagga is said to have founded, taking inspiration from the BJPs electoral symbolhave been disproportionately allowed to influence public opinion about the party. The BJPs efforts to project a centrist, albeit right of Centre, neo-conservative politics have been derailed by shrill rhetoric and even shriller violent acts. These are not shadowy organisations but very public ones, and have a constituency of disgruntled malcontents.

Some of this baggage is the result of the pact on the Ayodhya issue, where the fringe outfits led in mobilising opinion and the party gained political leverage. Throughout much of the 1990s, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and its cohorts were foregrounded in all their lour glory. The relationship between these outfits and the BJP has been strained since the NDAs stint at the Centre, wherein the BJP has been accused of betraying the Hindu cause by abandoning plans for the construction of the Ram Temple at Ayodhya in order to shore up electoral alliances.

As violent incidents pile up, the party will have to take a call on if not cutting then at least fraying the apron strings that bind the Parivar together. If not with the parent, the RSS then at least with the siblings and black sheep. It wont be easy, but if the family home is to be saved then someone will have to be disinherited.

nistula.hebbar@expressindia.com