New Delhi: Over the past few months, “Jai Shri Ram” has been used as a tactic to coerce religious minorities. But to see the strategy employed against a Muslim MLA by another elected leader outside the assembly in Ranchi came as a surprise to many on Friday when a video began doing the rounds of Jharkhand Bharatiya Janata Party minister C.P. Singh asking Congress MLA Irfan Ansari to chant the slogan.
In the video, Ansari can be seen standing outside the Jharkhand assembly giving an interview to a reporter about BJP’s alleged misuse of the chant. He says that the party and its government has forgotten that “Ram is for everyone”.
Off the frame, and to his left, is Singh giving a byte, seemingly oblivious to Ansari’s statement.
A man standing behind the legislator and minister can then be seen gesturing to the cameraperson that the two leaders of rival parties are standing beside each other. The reporter interviewing Ansari then hands the mic to Singh, who asks what is happening. Once apprised of Ansari’s statement by the reporters, Singh begins to coax Ansari (whom he calls ‘Ansari bhai‘) into “loudly” chanting “Jai Shri Ram”.
A smiling Ansari – who does not chant the slogan – then seems to attempt to reason with Singh with the same refrain that Ram is for everyone. Singh, unperturbed, then puts an arm around Ansari’s shoulder, began saying that Ansari’s ancestors were not “Baburwaale” but “Ramwaale,” i.e. not descended from Babur but from Ram.
As Ansari tries to get a word in, Singh expands the scope of his thesis with, “Your ancestors were also [people who chant] ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and not Taimurwaale or Ghori or Ghazni”, ostensibly referring to the 14th century ruler, the 13th century sultan and the 10th century founder of the Ghaznavid dynasty respectively.
Ansari, when the mic finally returns to him, eventually goes on to repeat, “Ram is for everyone” and charges Singh’s government with not paying attention to “how Ram is living in Ayodhya”.
“Have you ever gone to these places to see how people are doing?” he asks Singh.
The events unfold in a news clip released on July 24 on YouTube by Ajaya Bharat News.
A war cry for hate crimes
The Ranchi incident appears to have taken place just a day after a group of 49 eminent citizens wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to protest against “Jai Shri Ram” becoming a provocative war cry with many lynchings taking place in its name.
Expressing concern at the number of “religious identity-based hate crimes” in India, the letter also stressed that there is “no democracy without dissent”. It was signed by filmmakers Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Aparna Sen, Shyam Benegal and Anurag Kashyap, as well as vocalist Shubha Mudgal, historian Ramachandra Guha and sociologist Ashis Nandy among others from various fields.
“About 90% of these attacks were reported after May 2014, when your government assumed power nationally,” the signatories wrote to the prime minister.
The letter, which cites sources like the “FactChecker.in database” and the “Citizen’s Religious Hate-Crime Watch”, garnered vocal criticism from sections of media and on social media.
A little more than a month ago in Jharkhand itself, 24-year-old Muslim welder Tabrez Ansari died after being lynched by a mob which forced him to chant “Jai Shri Ram” and “Jai Hanuman”.
Two days later, a 26-year-old madrasa teacher was allegedly pushed off a moving train for refusing to chant the same slogans in the heart of Kolkata.
On July 22, a Zomato delivery person and his friend were allegedly threatened and forced to chant “Jai Shri Ram” in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad city by unidentified persons, triggering tension in the area. The two friends were also Muslim.
On June 24, a 25-year-old Muslim taxi driver in Maharashtra’s Thane was allegedly beaten, abused and forced to chant “Jai Shri Ram” by a mob which dragged him out of his car.