New Delhi: Delhi BJP leader Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga, 34, is often perceived as a troll, one who doesn’t mind taking the law into his hands. When the Supreme Court banned crackers in Delhi-NCR for Diwali 2017 in light of the smog crisis, Bagga distributed and burst fireworks in open defiance.
He lobs tasteless remarks at Twitter users and has been caught spreading fake news. He’s been in jail so many times that his family has stopped losing sleep over his arrest.
But Bagga, a Delhi native who is contesting the 8 February assembly election from the Hari Nagar constituency, is a man of no regrets. Speaking to ThePrint ahead of the Delhi election, Bagga said he follows just one philosophy in life — Saam-Daam-Dand-Bhed, by hook or by crook.
“All anti-nationals must be punished,” he added.
A badge of honour
Bagga’s history of disrupting events, getting into scuffles and initiating online spats would generally be considered blemishes for a poll candidate and played down. But not Bagga, who wears these like a badge of honour.
Bagga first emerged on the scene in 2011, when he and a group of friends — under the banner of their self-styled vigilante group Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena — allegedly barged into the chamber of Supreme Court lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan and assaulted him over his reported call for a plebiscite in Kashmir.
According to a DNA report on the incident, Bhushan was “…kicked in his chest, slapped, dragged by the feet, thrown about like a sack of wheat and pulled by the scruff of the neck…”
Bagga and two others were subsequently booked on a police complaint filed by Bhushan and the matter is now sub-judice.
At the time, Bagga had reportedly boasted about the attack on Twitter. But nine years later, he is ambivalent about his participation in the assault even as he suggested that Bhushan had it coming.
“I am not saying I was involved in the scuffle. But if someone talks about breaking India, then they should be subject to exactly what Prashant Bhushan had to go through,” Bagga told ThePrint.
Since then, Bagga has been in the news for disrupting several events, including a book launch of Booker-winning author Arundhati Roy — a moment he celebrated with a throwback picture last year.
Old Memories with Arundhati Roy, whn she was Barking on Kashmir pic.twitter.com/dNA8vcl3zS
— Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga (@TajinderBagga) August 30, 2018
In 2012, Bagga and his accomplices reportedly heckled Kashmiri separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
All this while, Bagga was a member of the BJP, whose youth wing he joined at 16.
Speaking about these instances, Bagga said it was a bid to check people with “anti-India views”.
“Many people with anti-India views, like Geelani, started coming to Delhi and holding conferences. This would rile us up,” he added. “But if we waited for the party’s (BJP) permission to stop these events — it would take very long… So we founded the Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena and would disrupt these events even if we were informed about them just an hour in advance.”
A proud family
Bagga was made the BJP’s Delhi spokesperson in 2017. Within three years, he is set to contest his maiden election as a candidate of the BJP, in a union territory where the party has been out of power for over two decades.
His family is still awestruck about their son earning a ticket. “Itni khushi hui ki seene mein samayi nahi [I was so happy I couldn’t contain myself],” Bagga’s father Pritpal Singh told ThePrint.
At the age of 11, Singh was enrolled in an RSS shakha near Patna, and he continued the “family tradition” with Bagga, who joined a shakha when he was just four years old.
It’s here, Bagga said, that he had his political awakening. Thus took root a zeal for politics that his father identifies as the reason Bagga dropped out of school after Class 10.
“If someone’s constantly obsessed with politics, they will obviously not focus on studies,” said Singh, holding out a photograph of a young Bagga with former Delhi chief minister Sahib Singh Verma, who died in 2007.
However, Bagga said he dropped out of school to join his father’s garments business. He is currently pursuing a Bachelor Preparatory Programme from Delhi-based Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) — a course meant for those who wish to pursue bachelor’s but didn’t clear Class XII.
He also owns an e-commerce portal, ‘TshirtBhaiya’, which specialises in “nationalistic merchandise”. The items on offer include a t-shirt depicting the controversial 2017 incident where Army Major Leetul Gogoi tied Kashmiri artisan Farooq Ahmed Dar to his jeep as a human shield against a mob.
Singh said he supports Bagga unconditionally now, but that wasn’t always the case.
“The first time I saw reports on TV of the incident with Prashant Bhushan, I was very upset and disapproved of it completely,” he added. “But when I read Shanti Bhushan’s (Prashant Bhushan’s father, senior Supreme Court lawyer) statement that he is proud of his son, I changed my position. If he can be proud of someone who has such views on Kashmir, then I should be proud of my son too.”
Bagga’s shenanigans have landed him in jail several times, most recently in West Bengal, where he was arrested after violence at a road show of former BJP president Amit Shah during the 2019 general election campaign.
“We have stopped losing sleep over it [Bagga going to jail], it’s normal for us now,” said Singh. “After all, he is doing it for a cause.”
On a mission to ‘Modi-fy India’
The year 2013 marked a watershed for the BJP. A swift generational shift got underway as Narendra Modi, then the Gujarat chief minister, was appointed the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate for the general elections the following year.
A so-called Modi wave took off and Bagga wasn’t left untouched.
Within 2013, Bagga and a group of young BJP workers set out on a campaign to “Modi-fy” India, an idea that was the former’s brainchild.
“We knew that if the country is to be protected from anti-nationals, Modi needs to be made prime minister,” said Nishant Singh, who was part of the team.
Bagga’s love and admiration for Modi has been reciprocated by the prime minister.
In 2015, he was part of a “super-exclusive bunch” of 150 “social media influencers” — aka #super150 — with whom PM Modi held a private interaction.
It was the year after the BJP came to power with a decisive majority and reams were dedicated to studying just how the party scripted the turnaround. The BJP’s social media presence was credited as a major factor in the party’s victory, but it also came under question for virulent attacks from trolls allegedly allied with its IT cell.
At the 2015 meeting, PM Modi reportedly asked the group of pro-BJP influencers to “react positively to abuse”and “keep in mind the language you use”.
But Bagga said he doesn’t think his language on social media dilutes his stature, or will have a negative impact on elections.
“I am not Uddhav Thackarey [Shiv Sena chief, a former BJP ally now in government with once-rival Congress] that I will change my ideology just for power,” Bagga added. “I am what I am.”
Little wonder then that Bagga remains as relentless on social media as he ever was.
Last month, he started a campaign to boycott Bollywood star Deepika Padukone’s movies after she visited the JNU campus in light of the violence perpetrated by a mob on 5 January. The same month, he posted a rather rude reply to actor Swara Bhasker as the JNU attack brought the Left and the Right at loggerheads on social media.
Bagga denied allegations that he’s sexist, saying, “Look, I am never the first one to initiate a fight. I only reply to people and their political positions.”
“If someone abuses me, I am bound to reply in a similar manner.”
According to his father, Bagga is a calm person, “but when something triggers him, it’s nearly impossible to control his anger”.
‘Want to make Delhi safe for women’
Since he was announced as a candidate last-minute, Bagga’s days have been spent fielding multiple calls and keeping up with a packed scheduled while squeezing in as as many interviews as possible.
Hari Nagar, a Sikh-dominated constituency won by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in 2015, wasn’t Bagga’s first choice. Having spent a major portion of his life in Tilak Nagar, Bagga was eyeing a ticket from that constituency, but the BJP chose to go with Rajiv Babbar, son of former MLA O.P. Babbar, who failed to win the seat in 2013 and 2015.
“Not many people recognise him [Bagga] here, and he doesn’t recognise anyone either,” said Neeta Bhola, a senior member of the BJP’s West Delhi wing. “All the campaign meetings have been reduced to mere felicitation ceremonies — meant only for optics.”
But the workers are trying to make up for Bagga’s late entry by campaigning on his Sikh identity. “Hindu aur Sikh ek hi maa ke bete hain,” a BJP worker told residents at a meeting.
As a Delhi Sikh, Bagga has often lashed out at the Congress for its role in the 1984 riots, which saw hundreds of Sikhs killed in the national capital in the aftermath of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination.
When Congress leader Kamal Nath, allegedly complicit in the 1984 riots, was made the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister in 2018, Bagga sat on a hunger-strike protesting the decision.
“It wasn’t a riot, it was a massacre,” Bagga said of 1984. “I will fight against the Congress till my last breath for that reason.”
Bagga, however, claimed he isn’t “too religious” — he visits the gurudwara when he can, and prays when he has the time. His home has only one image — that of Lord Shiva. “It was a gift,” he said.
Asked about his plans for the constituency, Bagga said he wants to make Delhi safe for women. “We will start self-defence training for women here,” he added.
On the campaign trail with Bagga
Last Thursday, seemingly confident about a BJP victory in Delhi, Bagga warned of a “surgical strike” against the anti-CAA protest at Shaheen Bagh on Delhi election results day, 11 February. The protest, which is led by Muslim women, has become a “hub of anti-national activity”, he tweeted.
Love or hate it, his approach on social media has earned him 6.5 lakh followers on Twitter, some of whom found themselves drawn to Delhi from various parts of the country to volunteer in his campaign.
“If I don’t support Bagga today, how else will we fight the tukde-tukde gang?” said Rakesh Kumar, a volunteer from Patna, employing a moniker the Hindu Right often throws at the Left.
Until a few days ago, Kumar had only known Bagga as a Twitter personality. Today, he walks the campaign trail with him.