Fringe Benefits

Fringe Benefits

How different sections of society were seduced by the Hindutva narrative and an elaborate division of labour in its ranks paid off

Shadow Armies, Shadow Armies: Fringe Organisations and Foot Soldiers of Hindutva, Dhirendra K Jha, Hindutva, hindutva army, pansare murder, pehlu khar, akhlaq, cow vigilantes, Indian Express
Shadow Armies: Fringe Organisations and Foot Soldiers of Hindutva

Name: Shadow Armies: Fringe Organisations and Foot Soldiers of Hindutva
Author: Dhirendra K Jha
Publisher: Juggernaut
Pages: 229
Price: Rs 499

Randomness, coincidence, and probability have haunted scientists, mathematicians and even purveyors of spirituality for centuries. This has generated theorems and ideas that try to explain random events. Albert Einstein’s famous allusion to God not playing dice has been subjected to a million interpretations.

But on a contemporary note, the “randomness” of the violence visited by cow vigilantes, often little-reported attacks on people for their food habits, way of life, choice of life partners and even contraception has been raising some serious questions. Is it really random, a throw of dice best consigned to the crime pages of newspapers? The killings of Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar, MM Kalburgi, Pehlu Khan and Muhammad Akhlaq, or the hangings in Latehar — how “random” is it all?

This is a question that journalist Dhirendra K Jha has sought to answer in this book. A quick read, it combines historical reference, fresh interviews and a look at the affairs of the fringe armies after the present government took office in May 2014.


The Sanatan Sanstha, the Bajrang Dal, the Sri Ram Sene, the Hindu Aikya Vedi, the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, Bhonsala Military School and Abhinav Bharat are described in considerable detail, including their origins and inspiration. Each chapter analyses a group, its footprint and objectives and the social groups they target for followers. Jha lays bare the interconnections between organisations and the years of groundwork they have put in. He shows how the RSS and its brother organisations blow hot and cold, associating with and dissociating from the fringe at the right time. So, what appears to be an apolitical mob attack is actually a response learned over time.

Amidst tension around the Babri Masjid issue, especially in UP, the Bajrang Dal was formed in 1991 as a “well-considered strategy where an affiliate organisation lower down the hierarchy was deployed to keep an issue alive for future exploitation…” Meanwhile, “the more important fronts kept relatively quiet to prevent any embarrassment for the BJP government.”

Abhinav Bharat, which “would have remained mired in obscurity had it not been for the bomb blast on September 29, 2008” in Malegaon, actually had a leader, the late Himani Savarkar, who spoke of the need for “blast-for-blast” reprisals. She was asked to restrain herself so that the organisation could remain above ground as long as possible.

The chapter on the Bhonsala Military School is especially instructive: on trips to Italy, BS Moonje picked up ideas on fascist education (directly inspired by the Central Military School for Physical Education) and other related pedagogical practices.

Jha’s book weaves a complex narrative of how different sections of society were seduced by the Hindutva narrative and “fringe” armies were set up for different objectives, an elaborate division of labour which paid off in times of bans and adversity. In better times, the intricate Hindutva web offers flexibility — the Hindu Aikya Vedi in Kerala seamlessly lent its president to head the BJP’s Kerala unit in 2015.

There is now much interest in the Hindu Yuva Vahini, nurtured through disputed graveyards, property, food, love affairs, even travel and cricket disputes sometimes, to drive a Hindu-Muslim wedge deeply into all aspects of life. Founded in the shadow of the Gujarat riots in 2002 as the Goraksha Manch, it was renamed and subsumed in an aggressive Hindu Yuva Vahini. Its founder, Adityanath, is now chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. It has been a very short journey from the “fringe” to the mainstream.