Pavan K Varma/Times of India
A word that has gained increasing currency in recent times is ‘fringe’. Every excess, outlandish statement, aberration, deviation, derogation from the law, or arbitrary act of violence, is ascribed to the ‘fringe’. This fringe is distinguished from the ‘mainstream’. The aim is to portray the fringe as the extreme, and, by contrast, the mainstream as its opposite.
But it is now becoming increasingly clear that the categorical divide between the two is artificial and expedient. Indeed the two are not different entities. A fringe has an organic connection to the mainstream because, after all, without the mainstream there cannot be a fringe. And if it is from the mainstream that the fringe derives its strength, then the difference between the two becomes only a matter of convenience.
Let us test this thesis against some recent examples. In December 2014, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, a minister in the central government, made the atrocious remark about ‘ramzadon and haraamzadon’. Obviously, she represented the fringe, because Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s lofty slogan on assuming power was ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’. His approach was the mainstream, and the Sadhvi’s comment was the loony fringe. But when only a perfunctory apology was sought from her by the PM, and she was not even asked to resign, one is entitled to ask who was the fringe, and who the mainstream?
The raging controversy about the film Padmavati offers another good example. The Rajput Karni Seva, described as a fringe group, demanded a ban on the film because it ‘distorted history’. Consequently, it openly resorted to violence, the issuance of threats, including beheadings of the film crew, and payments of vast amounts to those who would kill the director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, and cut off the nose of Deepika Padukone. But, it was soon apparent that the Karni Sena fringe had substantial support from the mainstream.
Suraj Pal Amu, who held the responsible post of BJP’s chief media coordinator in Haryana, openly doubled the bounty – to Rs 10 crore – for eliminating Deepika and Bhansali. Rajasthan chief minister weighed in to say that no community’s sentiments should be hurt. And, in an unprecedented move, even before the designated authority, the Central Board of Film Certification, could pronounce its verdict, five BJP ruled states, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, UP, Rajasthan and Bihar banned the film!
Sangeet Som, a two-time BJP MLA, made the outrageous comment in October 2017 that the iconic Taj Mahal is a blot on India’s history. Obviously the assumption would be that his is an insane voice from the fringe. But his comments were subsequently endorsed by Vinay Katiyar, who has been the national general secretary of BJP and three times member of the Lok Sabha.
What is worse, GVL Rao, the national spokesperson of BJP, while disagreeing perfunctorily with Som, proclaimed the mainstream view in a generalised indictment of epic proportions: “The period of Islamic rule – around 800 years – was a period of extreme exploitation, insane barbarism, and unprecedented intolerance.” Ergo, the fringe and the mainstream were identical.
The umbilical cord between the fringe and the mainstream is both transparent and verifiable. If the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, one of the larger affiliates of the Sangh Parivar, makes a clarion call for India to become an exclusive ‘Hindu rashtra’, it is the fringe. But if a Union minister, Anant Kumar Hegde, said last month that BJP is here to change the Constitution to rid it of the word ‘secular’, is he fringe or mainstream?
Sakshi Maharaj, who had once said that Nathuram Godse’s martyrdom should be commemorated, is definitely the fringe. In September 2017 he announced that couples who indulge in ‘vulgar behaviour’, (read being physically affectionate in public), instigate rape.
But his statement had the support of Manohar Lal Khattar, no less than the chief minister of Haryana, who said in 2014: “If a girl is dressed decently, a boy will not look at her in the wrong way.” When queried about whether girls should have freedom of choice, he reportedly retorted: “If they want freedom, why don’t they roam around naked?”
Dina Nath Batra, and his unverified assertions that ancient India – for all its creditworthy achievements – had achieved everything that science has discovered today, is definitely the fringe. But, no less a person than PM Modi, echoed what Batra said when in October 2014 in Mumbai, he claimed that the manner of the birth of Karna in the Mahabharata, and Ganeshji’s adorable form with an elephant head, showed the existence of advanced genetic science and plastic surgery in ancient India. Is Batra the fringe, or is he the mainstream?
In April 2017, Pehlu Khan was carrying cattle for his dairy farm in Nuh, for which he had a valid licence. He was lynched in full public view, by a mob of cattle vigilantes. In spite of substantial evidence to nail the culprits, they were all let off. Was the Rajasthan government the fringe or the mainstream?
The truth is there are no such distinctions. The fringe reinforces the mainstream, and the mainstream nurtures the fringe. They are two sides of the same coin. One should have no illusions on this score.
(The featured image at the top shows mainstream BJP leader Narendra Modi with Praveen Togadia leader of the fringe Vishwa Hindu Parishad)