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In the two weeks since the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections began, leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have made several hateful and polarising speeches against the Muslim community.
For example, in a live video uploaded to Facebook on February 11, 2022, BJP MLA Raghvendra Pratap Singh is seen saying, “Since I became an MLA, they (the Muslims) have stopped wearing skull caps. If you vote for me again, they will start wearing tilaks.”
Singh continues in the video: “Will there be ‘Jai Shri Ram’ or ‘Walekum Salam’?” As his supporters respond with slogans of ‘Jai Shri Ram’, Singh asks them to swear on Goddess Durga that they will support the saffron party. “Durga ji is here with us, promise once in front of her,” he says.
This is not the only video of Singh making polarising speeches. In another video, the sound of the azan (Muslim call to prayer) from a nearby mosque plays as Singh says: “Listen, you b*****ds [referring to Muslims], I will have your microphone checked and see if you have permission [for it] or not. And if you don’t have the permission then I will get the mic removed from your mosque.”
He continues: “Earlier, the roads of Dumariyaganj used to be jammed by topiwalas (a reference to skull cap-wearing Muslims) during Ramzan. We used to see gol topis (skull caps). Haven’t all these things been stopped by now? In the coming days, please bring the Bhagwa (saffron) government in again and strengthen Modi.”
In the same video, Singh adds: “…Both Hindus and Muslims received ration during the pandemic. We are even giving salt now. But those who eat our salt and act as traitors, they won’t be spared … You should know that the biggest threat is from Jaichands (a reference to Hindu traitors in popular Hindutva vocabulary).”
Singh has used the ‘traitor’ motif in several other anti-Muslim speeches. For instance, in the February 11 speech, he accused Muslims of funding dummy Hindu candidates to contest elections against him. “We are afraid of ‘vote katwas’ more than of katwas (slur for Muslim men),” he says.
In a February 15 panel discussion on India TV, oddly titled ‘Azan Controversy Erupts After Jijab Controversy in UP’ (Hindutva groups in several places in Madhya Pradesh have been protesting against the azan in the last few weeks as reported by The Wire), in response to a Muslim panellist saying, “Don’t shout, don’t be sad, you and your fake baba Yogi ji are going to get a big shock [in the elections]”, Singh flung all sorts of religious slurs and abuses against him. He even threatened to feed pig’s milk (derogatory for Muslims) to the panellist, whom he described as a “b*****d dog and an illegitimate child of Hindus”.
In the discussion, the MLA defended his speeches against Muslims and said that the azan on loudspeakers is an assault on Hindu self-esteem and a way to terrorise them.
“Is this Pakistan?” he asked. “There, Hindus can’t even say ‘Jai Shri Ram’, so here [in India], keep your azan inside your mosque.”
According to a local activist, Singh is infamous for controversial remarks and hate speeches. In the run-up to the polls, he has constantly used dehumanising language against Muslims to polarise the elections.
In December 2018, Singh had endorsed Yogi Adityanath as the next prime minister of the country, leading to flak from within the saffron party. This controversy had begun a few days earlier when a far-right militant Hindu group called Navnirman Sena put up posters with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s picture on one side with the caption, ‘Jumlebaazi ka naam Modi’ (Modi is the word for empty promises) and Adityanath’s picture on the other side with the caption. ‘Hindutva ka brand Yogi’ (Yogi is the brand name of Hindutva).
In January 2020, Singh who is also the Uttar Pradesh chief of Yogi’s militant Hindu organisation, the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV), made headlines for his derogatory remarks against Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi in a video that went viral. “We cannot expect any better from Priyanka Gandhi, who grew up in the culture of Christians and butchers. She has no knowledge about sannyasi and saffron,” he had said.
He had made this remark after Priyanka Gandhi slammed Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath for his December 2019 “revenge” comment against anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) protesters. Last week, a Supreme Court bench composed of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Surya Kant reprimanded the state government and told it to withdraw the proceedings that acted on the recovery notices issued to the alleged anti-CAA protesters in December 2019 or else the court would quash the proceedings itself for violating the rule of law.
Case registered for inflammatory comments
Singh is not the only BJP leader to threaten violence or incite hatred against Muslims and non-BJP voters. He is also not the first one to have called non-BJP voters and candidates ‘traitors’. More recently, T. Raja Singh, a BJP MLA from the Goshamahal constituency, threatened that Adityanath would demolish with bulldozers the houses of those who don’t vote for him.
“Hindus should turn out in large numbers to vote. Those who do not vote for the BJP should know that Yogi Adityanath owns thousands of JCBs and bulldozers. They’ve all been sent to UP. Such areas will be identified after the elections for people who did not support Yogiji,” he said.
Another BJP MLA, Mayankeshwar Singh from Amethi, threatened to pull the beards off of Muslims and convert them to Hinduism. “If Hindus wake up, we will pull your beards and make a chotia (Hindu symbol). If you [MusIims] want to live in India, you’ll have to say ‘Radhe Radhe’ (a Hindu religious chant) or else go to Pakistan like those who went there at the time of partition,” he said in a video which has now gone viral.
According to a senior police official, Singh has been booked under hate speech charges in Bhawani Ganj police station.
“A case for inflammatory speech under Sections 153A, 295A, 505A and 298 of the Indian Penal Code has been registered against the Dumariyaganj MLA in Bhawani Ganj police station. The police are investigating the case,” the police official told The Wire.
Section 153A deals with promoting enmity between different groups on the basis of religious, race, language and so on; 295A with deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class; 505A with speech or writing that causes fear or alarm among a group, or provokes violence against it, on grounds of race, religion, gender and so on; and 298 with uttering words with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings.
Dumariyaganj has a strong Muslim presence constituting around 37% of its population and Singh faces a tough fight in the 2022 assembly election from Samajwadi Party contender Saiyada Khatoon, whom he had defeated by the narrow margin of 171 votes in 2017, when she had contested for of the Bahujan Samajwadi Party.