By Dushyant Shekhawat Jan. 28, 2020
What started as toothless allegations of incompetence against Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal have started to morph into something more sinister – calls for violence. Without an enemy to demonise, there is very little that the BJP has spoken about on its campaign trail.
Despite it being a wintry January, temperatures in Delhi are soaring. Like stressed students getting crankier before exam season, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s campaigners are turning to increasingly incendiary speeches as the state elections creep ever closer. Without a frontrunner for the CM post, and no clear agenda beyond pointing fingers at Shaheen Bagh’s protesters for disrupting traffic, the BJP’s game plan has relied on the power of negativity.
But what started as toothless allegations of incompetence against Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and the incumbent AAP, have started to morph into something more sinister. In fact, going by the tone of Minister of State for Finance, Anurag Thakur’s latest rally speech in Delhi, the BJP’s rhetoric is now skirting dangerously close to hate speech.
“Desh ke gaddaron ko…” called Thakur while at a rally for BJP candidate Manish Chaudhary in North West Delhi on Monday.
“Goli maaron saalo ko!” thundered the gathered crowd back at Thakur, who smiled, clapped his hands, and led the chants once more.
Footage of the rally went viral, as did other clips from the same speech, where Thakur asks, “Yeh gaddar hain kaun?” before prompting the crowd to name Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi. Apart from the BJP IT cell, most people on social media seemed to be disturbed by a MoS calling for an incumbent CM and member of Opposition to be shot. But Thakur justified it in a comment to NDTV reporters, telling them to watch the whole speech and judge his words after gauging the mood of the crowd.
As far as excuses for incendiary speeches go, “the mood of the crowd” is a poor fit for a government official. The “desh ke gaddaron ko” slogan is a call for violence, and Thakur should know better than to be stoking those flames in Delhi, less than a month after the brutal attacks on the students of JNU and Jamia and days away from an election. While “Hum Dekhenge”, a poem by Faiz, came under intensive scrutiny for seditious content, this brazenly bloodthirsty slogan is screamed out in the open, often mere feet away from policemen.
As far as excuses for incendiary speeches go, “the mood of the crowd” is a poor fit for a government official.
This hate-filled sloganeering has a habit of turning up at rallies attended by BJP politicians. As Delhi campaign enters its final stage, the frequency of its appearance saw an uptick. On Saturday, the Election Commission imposed a 48-hour ban on BJP candidate Kapil Mishra, who not only appeared on video at a pro-CAA rally participating in the chant, but also put out tweets claiming that the Delhi election was a contest between “India and Pakistan” (the ban has since expired).
The EC will send a show-cause notice to Thakur for his own conduct. But the fact that he is an MP not contesting the election, it is unclear how much of an effect this will have on the BJP campaign as a whole.
The backlash against Thakur has seen a debate spring up on how much protection freedom of speech offers in this situation. In an interesting experiment, activist Saket Gokhale has sought permission to hold a rally in Delhi where he wants to raise the “Desh ke gaddaron ko” slogan. If the police refuse on the grounds that the slogan is an incitement to violence, then BJP’s Thakur and Mishra should be booked according to the same logic. Now, it remains to be seen whether tolerance for intolerance is so deeply ingrained in our society that politicians can get away with openly calling for murder.
It’s not like the Delhi police aren’t booking people for seditious speeches. Anti-CAA activist Sharjeel Imam, who was seen making a speech calling to “cut off” Assam and the North-East from India by barricading train tracks and roads, was booked for sedition after the video went viral. Today, after a four-day search, Imam was arrested by Delhi Police in Bihar. Cutting states off from the country is surely seditious, but then, isn’t calling for the shooting of fellow Indians the same?
Cutting states off from the country is surely seditious, but then, isn’t calling for the shooting of fellow Indians the same?
The BJP’s campaign in Delhi, and indeed its attitude toward the nationwide protest against its divisive Citizenship Amendment Act, has been based on slandering their opponents and dissidents. Another BJP star campaigner, West Delhi MP Parvesh Verma, hit headlines soon after Thakur with his brand of hate-mongering. He told the crowd at a rally that the protesters at Shaheen Bagh – who are mostly mothers, grandmothers, and children – were in fact gathering there to enter people’s homes and rape their sisters and daughters, before killing them. And like Thakur, he will probably be served with a show-cause notice by the EC. Yet another BJP face, National Secretary Rahul Sinha, mischaracterised the anti-CAA protesters of Shaheen Bagh and Kolkata’s Park Circus as Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals. Without an enemy to demonise, there is very little that the BJP has spoken about on its campaign trail.
The looming Delhi elections seem to be leading to the mask of civility being dropped. It’s clear now that hate speech has made its way into the campaign. What remains to be seen if the voters of Delhi will put up with it, or reject it outright.