Rise of the fringe

In recent years, several fringe groups have sprung up espousing the cause of a Hindu Rashtra. While some are gaining traction through social media platforms, others are courting controversies to remain relevant

October 10, 2021 01:22 am | Updated 01:22 am IST - NEW DELH

Vishnu Gupta, founder and national president of Hindu Sena at his office in east Delhi.

Vishnu Gupta, founder and national president of Hindu Sena at his office in east Delhi.

In a narrow lane in an East Delhi locality is Vishnu Gupta’s makeshift office in a small residential property. The Hindu Sena chief keeps a Bhagavad Gita on his table, a religious poster behind his chair and a sword on the side next to the kitchen area.

Mr. Gupta claims that he gives a Bhagavad Gita and a sword to all new members of the outfit so that they can “protect their family” and “only scare people, if required, by wielding the sword”

Since the BJP came to power at the Centre in 2014, phrases like “Hindutva”, “Hindu Rashtra”, “Jai Shri Ram”, “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” have become commonplace. One reason for this appears to be the mushrooming of fringe groups. Emboldened by the present regime, these outfits organise public gatherings and protests to propagate their beliefs.

Recently, five members of the Hindu Sena were arrested for vandalising MP Asaduddin Owaisi’s house on Ashoka Road. In a Facebook post, a member, Lalit Kumar, who was later arrested, said he and his fellow members wanted to teach Mr. Owaisi “a lesson” because of his “anti-Hindu” speeches.

At Jantar Mantar on August 8, several fringe groups, which had essentially gathered to demand abolition of British-era laws, turned the occasion into an event of “nationalism” where anti-Muslim slogans were raised.

Steady growth

The Hindu Sena, which came into existence in 2011, started with 50 members. Though it registered a steady growth till 2 014 to boast a membership of 4 lakh, it added only another 1 lakh new members over the past six years. The outfit now has presence in 16 States, Mr. Gupta said, adding that over 10 lakh people have joined it through social media platforms.

According to Mr. Gupta, the Hindu Sena accepts members “who are already trained in Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh shakhas” or those who “want a Hindu Rashtra”. “People who think like us come and join us. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp play an important role in propagating our work and belief. That’s how we have grown,” he said.

Born in U.P.’s Etah village, Mr. Gupta was only six when he was drawn towards the idea of a Hindu Rashtra. He was witness to the events leading up to the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992. “In 1990 and 1991, while attending a school run by the RSS, I used to see crowds gathering in the village and shouting “Jai Shri Ram”. There were slogans like ‘ Baccha baccha Ram ka… Janambhumi ke kaam ka ’ written on the walls of the village. I felt an adrenaline rush and that’s how the feeling of nationalism got instilled in me,” he said.

While studying in Dyal Singh College, he joined the Shiv Sena’s youth wing. His seniors and peers told him, “You are aggressive, you should join the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s youth wing, the Bajrang Dal”. He joined the organisation in 2008.

Mr. Gupta founded the Hindu Sena in 2011 because he wanted to be “more aggressive” and organise events on the issues he wanted. “The ruling party has to do vote bank politics, which is why I can’t speak freely for Hindus. I wanted to be free,” he said.

Another fringe outfit which made headlines again after the Jantar Mantar incident was the Hindu Force founded by Deepak Singh. He was arrested in the second week of August for his alleged involvement in raising inflammatory slogans at Jantar Mantar.

Speaking after his release from jail on October 1, Mr. Singh said 20-odd people started the organisation a year ago and its present strength was around 6,500. “We work for cows, the Ganga, and Hindus who need help,” he said.

Mr. Singh, who used to work for the Bajrang Dal earlier, pursues a straightforward agenda: “ Simple objective hai... Samaj main dharmik jagran karna, logon ko rashtra ke prati aware karna, rashta bhawna jagana (The objective is simple – to make people aware about religion, about the nation and instil a feeling of nationalism)”.

Sudarshan Vahini, another fringe outfit, was founded by Vinod Sharma. He also spent 52 days in jail recently for his involvement in the Jantar Mantar incident. Speaking after his release on September 30, he said his morale was down after the arrest and he might shut down the organisation if he “keeps getting into trouble”.

Mr. Sharma founded the organisation in 2016 with three people. Thanks to social media, it now has 1.5 lakh members across the country, he said.

A property dealer by profession, Mr. Sharma said he joined the Hindu Sena but parted ways with Mr. Gupta after a few years as their “thought process” didn’t match. Distancing himself from the Jantar Mantar incident, he called the sloganeering “behudgi (reckless)”. “Preach your own religion, don’t demean any other,” he advocated.

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