The junior finance minister in the Narendra Modi government makes a speech in Delhi in which he exhorts the audience to shout ‘Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maro salon ko (Shoot the traitors)’, a pointed reference to those who are protesting the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. Barely a couple of days later, a lone gunman, shouting slogans, shoots at innocent students in the same city. Shockingly, the large police contingent on the spot idly stood by.
The minister, Anurag Thakur, could disclaim any connection with the shooter, but the cause and effect is obvious – such speeches act as encouragement to those who are already charged up, burning with fanaticism and hatred. “Yeh lo azaadi (Take your freedom),” shouted the assailant, indicating that in his mind, those protesting the government’s move are somehow traitors wanting to secede from India.
Such is the climate of hatred that has built up in the last few years. The young man’s action is a logical step forward in a sequence of mob lynchings, the unprovoked beating of students by storm troopers, heavy-handed police action against peaceful protestors and the like. Though there have been such cases all over India, especially in BJP-ruled states, Delhi, where the police forces directly report to the Union home ministry run by Amit Shah, has been particularly brutally targeted in recent weeks.
That is not surprising. The capital city goes to polls in early February and the BJP wants to win any which way. After doing poorly in three recent state elections, it is determined to wrench Delhi’s legislative assembly from the Aam Aadmi Party, which is basing its entire campaign on an agenda of development and on social services such as education and health.
In the BJP’s mind, violence and anti-minority propaganda will lead to polarisation and the party believes it will reap electoral benefits from this strategy. The protestors at Jamia Millia Islamia, where the shooting took place, and Shaheen Bagh, where hundreds of women have been sitting on the streets for weeks to register their opposition to the CAA and National Register of Citizens, have been painted as anti-nationals; that many of them are Muslim has figured prominently in the BJP’s messaging. The home minister has pointedly mentioned Shaheen Bagh in his speeches, and left no doubt in anyone’s mind that voting against the BJP would be an endorsement of the protestors, and thus, by implication, supportive of the nation’s enemies.
In this atmosphere, is it at all surprising that someone burning with hatred against all those he sees (and is told to see by people in power) as traitors, steps out and tries to gun them down? There may be many – scores, if not hundreds – of such radicals, all indoctrinated by the unending lies spread by the pro-government Hindutva-oriented ecosystem, which consists of politicians, social media and also a large section of mainstream media.
This section has played a particularly dangerous role in fanning hate in the last few years against those who oppose the BJP and the government, especially when they are minority communities. In the aftermath of the Jamia shooting, Republic TV, which left any pretence of professional journalism long ago, indulged in misleading reporting that bordered on victim-blaming. Other channels also did their best to suggest the shooter had been “provoked” by the anti-CAA protests, reprising the notorious ‘action-reaction’ theory Narendra Modi used to justify the 2002 Gujarat killings.
Bigotry has now become a currency; some use it with their words, others with their guns. As long as he continues to seek electoral dividends by exploiting anti-minority sentiments – and his latest speech indicates there is to be no let up – Amit Shah’s promise of action against the gunman carries no conviction.