Right-wing political fringe parties in India are thriving. A majority of these nationalist outfits are driven by violence and unchecked hooliganism. In the larger scheme of things, they claim more power and authority than they ideally should.
Before the rise of Yogi Adityanath and his subsequent possession of Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Ministerial throne, the Hindu Yuva Vahini, a political outfit assembled by Adityanath himself, carried an identity which was almost unknown to national consciousness. It rarely made it to mainstream media or political conversations. With Adityanath’s ascent, however, the nascent political vigilante group assumed new-found power (due to its association with the Chief Minister), catapulting itself into the forefront. It transformed from a small political wing in Gorakhpur to a self-proclaimed political organ, functioning for a larger cause – spearheading a movement that would defend the Hindu cause.
Last month, HYV activists allegedly murdered a 60-year-old Ghulam Mohammad in Bulandshahr, holding him responsible for assisting a Hindu-Muslim couple elope. In another incident, HYV activists barged into a church in Maharajganj during a prayer meeting, accusing the pastor of compelling Hindus to convert to Christianity. Miles away in Meerut, the activists assaulted a Muslim couple. In the same month, Bajrang Dal activists teamed with BJP workers and assaulted police officers in Agra. Soon the Chief Minister cautioned the parties, asking them not to take law into their own hands. Adityanath’s advice seemed perfunctory, lacking the ire it deserved.
It is disconcerting to know that peripheral political outfits can wield such clout – one which is rooted in violence and hooliganism – without facing any dire repercussions for their actions. In January 2017, members of the Shri Rashtriya Rajput Karni Sena (SRRKS) – a fringe political group, allegedly barged onto the sets of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavati in Jaipur and vandalised it. The charge was that Bhansali’s film was distorting Indian history. Again, the state government’s response was disturbing. It stated that Padmavati would only be released once it was “cleared” by SRRKS members. In The Indian Express, Rajasthan’s Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Arun Chaturvedi was quoted as saying that the “government’s stand is that the filmmakers won’t be allowed to shoot Padmavati in Rajasthan anymore. As for its release, that can happen only once its script is bereft of all objections which have been raised” by SRRKS.
In another incident, during the release of PK, a film which featured Aamir Khan, right-wing Hindu outfit Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) called for an immediate ban on the movie claiming it hurt Hindu religious sentiments, since PK was “ridiculing” Hindu rituals and traditions. Recently, in the aftermath of the controversy surrounding Perumal Murugan’s novel, Madhorubhagan (One Part Woman), Sahitya Akademi chose to award Aniruddhan Vasudevan, who had translated Perumal’s novel to English. However, Hindu Makkal Katchi, a far-right political party in Tamil Nadu, opposed the committee’s decision, demanding that the award be withdrawn and the book be banned immediately.
There is an important distinction between a ban and the call for boycott. Boycotting is a method for objection which is acceptable in a democracy, where individuals are given the right to decide whether they want to support something or not. Banning a film or a book, however, takes away an individual’s right to decide – not only does this threaten one’s freedom of expression and choice, but it’s also a step in the direction of the collapse of a democracy.
Dharam Jagaran Samanvay Samiti aligned its mission with the Ghar Wapsi programme. In 2014, the party’s head, Rajeshwar Singh told India Today, the party’s goals of making India a “Hindu Rashtra” by 2021. “The Muslims and Christians don’t have any right to stay here,” he said. “So they would either be converted to Hinduism or forced to run away from here.” DJS was also driven by the ‘shuddikaran’ (cleansing) programme, one where the party stated that it had allegedly converted 0ver 315 people to Hinduism, who belonged to rural parts of Varanasi.
In the larger scheme of things, in India, these fringe political outfits should not be allowed to wield the kind of power they are allowed to.