The Fringe is hurting. And it is angry. Very angry.
For too long if there is one thing that has remained undemocratic in our country it is privilege. Privilege has been the preserve of few. And it is these few who constitute the fringe in our social ecosystem. Small in number but high on influence, this fringe made the rules of the game for all to play. At least till now.
From time to time this fringe was challenged and sometimes it even conceded defeat or yielded temporary territory. But each time it bounced back because of its remarkable seed like quality to secrete around its safely ensconced position a protective sheath that insulated it from any threat. A combination of civil society tools such as academia, lit fests, activism, NGOs and the like made this protective sheath that kept the fringe dormant but alive in adverse situations and allowed it to germinate once conditions became favorable.
But this time the fringe realizes that the danger is for real and perhaps existential. The hard sheath is under unrelenting attack and risks being cracked open or perhaps already has in some places. The fringe, which till now was secure inside has spilled out and is faced with a rustic social milieu where their rules are being challenged. It is putting up brave front, but clearly fighting with its back to the wall and in an uncomfortable battle terrain for the first time.
Every part of the ecosystem has its own fringe and It is easy to spot the “Battle of the Fringe” being played out around us.
The fringe among politicians are understandably most upset. After all the assault of assaults has been on them. Rank upstarts, outsiders and first timers with no political pedigree are aspiring to be politicians and becoming ministers, Chief Ministers and even Prime Ministers! Pedigree no longer guarantees a ticket. Safe seats are not safe anymore. Constituency demands rigorous 24×365 hard work and occasional Heli-dropping holidays are not considered cute. Intellect not muscle and work not money are slowly emerging as winnability criteria. And the political fringe doesn’t like this new paradigm. They romanticize the old days and old ways and want them back and are battling hard. With their backs to the wall they are punching with vengeance and from EC to EVM and everything in between is on their target.
Bureaucracy has its own angry fringe. The steel frame has rusted, the much overdue repair has begun, and the rusty parts are squeaking loudly as they are dismantled. The new frame will be of advanced material, stronger and modular. But more importantly, entry criteria like JNU and Kapital may not guarantee a permanent nest. Lateral entry is particularly sacrilegious for this fringe. After all for them, how can acquiring specific expertise on Artificial Intelligence, Macro Economics be more difficult than giving that perfect rendition of Yeats, Shelly, Coleridge and Wordsworth? And that too in Her Majesty’s own accent? The bureaucratic fringe is angry. And they are fighting back by using the most reliable weapon in their armoury; procedure over result. Carping over obvious operational challenges that are bound to arise in the all-round structural change from DeMo to GST is added reinforcement.
The fringe among judiciary is not behind in feeling angered. Truly privileged, theirs is the only fraternity that is neither elected nor selected but have arrogated to themselves the comfortable process of co-opting members to their cozy collegium. A fringe within judiciary has even established successful judicial dynasties. Change may threaten such privileges. There is just too much discussion on activism, overreach, independence, accountability and post retirement jobs. Fewer opportunities on time-bound commissions are not attractive anymore. PILs hitherto considered conscientious are considered a nuisance and NGOs of star lawyers are under a cloud of doubt. The fringe among judiciary is angry that their walnut paneled chambers may not be restricted to just “people like us”. And they are fighting back, albeit with soft gloves and within the boundary of expected civility, largely through issue-based posturing.
Perhaps the most voluble and visibly angry are the fringe in the fourth estate. Just when star journalists from mainstream media were looking forward to “Senior Journalist” tags and Rajya Sabha nominations, technology dealt them a mean blow. Overnight their “one to many” hegemony was wiped out by the “many to many” character of social media. Every netizen is potential journalist, nimble content rich digital platforms are the preferred new mainstream media and savvy news-makers prefer a direct to audience route. Add to this the ignominy of having to rely on social media even for the smallest breaking news doesn’t make fringe journalists happy. They want their priority access cards restored, their junkets aboard PM-One to resume and power to broker headlines back and they are battling hard. But the character of their battle is complex. Fighting social media by using social media is not an easy task.
The fringe among intelligentsia is also angry and is battling hard. They are a cocktail of those who have contributed to specific fringe causes in their prime. The list is predictable NGO’s, professors, curated authors, award recipients, retired members from all four pillars of our system, preforming artists and the likes. All of known ideological proclivity. The intelligentsia is the soft connecting bridge to the larger society and an effective thought conveyor. The fringe amongst intelligentsia know its importance and don’t want their old bridge replaced with a new. But their battle is on borrowed resources and not on its own strength. And at this time the resources are few. Yet they are doing their bit for the fringe cause. The tools are predictable; Lit fests, award shows, book reviews, sundry talk shows and debates.
Even the social fringe is angry. Qualifying criteria for social climb have changed. Vernacs are also polyglots, small townees seem to be more driven, everybody is going on a foreign holiday, Yoga is fashionable over Zoomba and the “oh so middle class” dig doesn’t tickle a funny bone anymore. Diligence is gaining ground over inheritance. Watchman Bahadur’s son and driver Dhana’s daughter seem to be doing just fine but Pappu still can’t dance salaa! And popsicle poppas and martini mommas making up this social fringe are unhappy and indignant at this changed social milieu.
The battle of the fringe is being played out in every corner of our social ecosystem. The fringe does not like to be called fringe and perhaps rightly so considering the influence they wielded. But rules of the game are changing. As society gets homogenized by the forces of technology, education and opportunity privileges will not remain the exclusive preserve of few.
And the Fringe will have no option but to merge with the Whole….