While releasing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s college degrees, Union finance minister Arun Jaitley attacked the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) for taking public discourse to its ‘lowest ever’ level. AAP has been accusing the prime minister for lying about his educational qualifications in his election affidavits. By making public copies of Modi’s degrees, Jaitley made a strong point against the AAP for trying to dent the prime minister’s image over an insignificant issue like educational qualifications – especially when no such requirements are laid down by the Indian constitution to hold the top job.
The finance minister accused AAP of lacking the strength and evidence to legitimately oppose the BJP-led government at the Centre. He said the lack of a compelling political case has forced the party to make personal, apolitical attacks against the prime minister.
While Jaitley’s observations may not be off the mark, his suggestion that AAP’s campaign on Modi’s degrees has pushed public discourse to its lowest level ignores the fact that BJP’s own leaders in the past two years have made statements that can in no way be considered good for Indian democracy. In fact, a few BJP legislators and leaders have openly tried to defame leaders of opposition parties and have made inflammatory remarks against people from other religions, especially Muslims. Here is a catalogue of statements made by BJP leaders that would surely make it to any shortlist of the lowest of the low.
Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti
While kicking off the electoral campaign for Delhi’s assembly polls in December 2014, the Union minister of state for food processing industries Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, in a communally charged speech against Muslims, exhorted voters to choose between ‘Ramzaadon’ (sons of Ram) and ‘Haramzaadon’ (illegitimately born). “Aapko tay karna hai ki Dilli mein sarkar Ramzadon ki banegi ya haramzadon ki. Yeh aapka faisla hai (You must decide whether you want a government of those born of Ram or of those born illegitimately),” she had said. Amidst uproar in the Parliament, Jyoti had to later apologise and “express regret” over her remarks that was clearly an attempt to polarise the electorate on religious lines. Her statement has been the only one Prime Minister Modi has criticised directly, in response to angry demands by MPs that he reprimand the minister.
Singh, the minister of state for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), has been under the scanner for making hostile comments against anyone who is not a BJP supporter. Take for example when Singh, addressing a rally in Delhi’s Dhirpur in 2014, made personal allegations against AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal by comparing him with Maarich (a mythical figure who could disguise himself) while equating Modi with Ram (the Hindu God) and Modi supporters with Hanuman. “We used to have Ramlilas in our village. A youth once demanded that he should be given a chance to play Hanuman’s role. He had no experience. When he went on stage and Raavan pulled out his sword, he ran away from the stage… Kejriwal wohi nakli Hanuman hai… Kejriwal un Rakshasho mein bhi Maarich hai, jo vesh badalta hai par kabhi na kabhi pakda jata hai… (Kejriwal is that fake Hanuman, he is the demon who changes shape but will get caught one day),” said Singh.
Despite much furore over his remarks, Singh has been making such statements in other platforms with impunity. In the Bihar polls, Singh attacked Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar for arguing with Modi out of ‘jealousy’ and behaving like a ‘dehati aurat’ (boorish woman), showcasing his feudal, patriarchal mind set.
Again commenting on the Taliban attack on the Army school in Peshawar that killed many children in 2014, Singh showed his insensitivity when he tweeted, “Whatever is happening in Pakistan is called friendly fight,” alleging everyone who is a Paksitani is a terrorist. Singh also got embroiled in a controversy when he asked all those who opposed Modi to go to Pakistan. “Those opposing Narendra Modi are looking at Pakistan, and such people will have place in Pakistan and not in India,” he had said during a rally.
In another venomous statement in Jharkhand, Singh had said, “…those who want to stop” BJP prime ministerial candidate Modi will soon have “no place in India… because their place will be in Pakistan.” In an attempt to polarise the voters, Singh painted the whole Muslim community with one brush when he asked in a rally, “Why terrorists in India belong to one religion? My intention is not to say that everyone from a community is a terrorist. But when all those arrested are from one community, why are secular parties silent? There are some people whose political Mecca Medina are in Pakistan, they are trying to stop Modi,” Singh said. Apart from using terrorism in Pakistan to inflame communal passions in India, Singh has frequently exposed his prejudices against minorities when he linked Muslims to unproven and often fabricated allegations of love jihad, a propaganda campaign popularised by the Hindutva hardliners.
India’s public discourse stooped to an unprecedented low when the BJP MP from Unnao in Uttar Pradesh, Sakshi Maharaj made repeated statements displaying his communal credentials in the last two years. His most infamous statement was when he urged Hindu women to produce at least four children to protect their religion from Islam. Maharaj said the growth rate of the Muslim population in India was shooting up – a claim all serious demographers have refuted – and that this posed a threat to Hinduism. Attacking Muslims, he said at a rally, “The concept of four wives and 40 children just won’t work in India but it is high time that every Hindu woman must produce at least four children to protect the Hindu religion.”
At a rally in Maharashtra, he had also proclaimed that Nathruam Godse (the Hindutva-inspired assassin of Mahatma Gandhi) was a patriot and that he should be treated as a martyr, not a traitor.
When Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched in Dadri last year because Hindutva activists suspected he had beef at home, Sakshi Maharaj pitched himself against Muslims again and questioned the compensation Akhlaq’s family received from the Samajwadi party-led UP government. “This is done on the basis of appeasement. When a Muslim dies they will give 20 lakhs and when a Hindu dies he won’t even get 20,000.”
Fuelling further tension, Maharaj justified the Dadri lynching, “We won’t remain silent if somebody tries to kill our mother. We are ready to kill and get killed. The Uttar Pradesh government’s double standards have been exposed. The way in which the incident is being politicised is condemnable.”
“Azam Khan (Samajwadi party leader) is a Pakistani. He has faith in Pakistan’s political force. He calls Bharat Mata ‘witch’,” Maharaj had said while trying to paint the SP government as a pro-Muslim force.
Exposing his racist biases, Sakshi Maharaj has also attacked the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi in yet another controversial remark. “Agar Rajiv Gandhi koi Nigerian ladies se byaah kiye hote, gori chamra na hota, toh kya Congress party uska netritwa sweekarti kya? (Had Rajiv married a Nigerian lady, had she not been fair-skinned, would the Congress have accepted her leadership)”. After the Congress party’s protest, he had to later express regrets over his statement and complained that whatever he had said was in an “off-the-record” conversation.
The Union minister of state for agriculture and food processing Sanjeev Baliyan too has been caught making controversial remarks.
An accused in Muzaffarnagar riots, he had called Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan ‘a terrorist.’ While Khan is known to be a strongman of the SP, the BJP leader highlighted his Muslim identity to polarise voters ahead of the UP assembly polls in 2017.
When an anguished farmer complained that he will be forced to commit suicide if he does not get any help, Baliyan insensitively told him, “Go then do it. Now don’t talk about it. Doesn’t even listen to me.” Go then do it. Now don’t talk about it. Doesn’t even listen to me.”
The BJP MP from Gorakhpur in UP has been at the core of spreading hate politics. From inciting violence in his speeches to spreading hate against Muslims, he has done it all. His Hindu Yuva Vahini, camouflaged as the protector of Hindus, is known to be particularly violent against Muslims in Gorakhpur. Adityanath has many times called out Hindus to organise themselves against Muslims.
Adityanath compared Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan with Pakistani terrorists and 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed, and said he is “welcome” to go to Pakistan. Similarly, when Aamir Khan made a remark about India’s growing intolerance in India, Adityanath was quick to respond: “If somebody wants to leave (India), then has anybody stopped him? If somebody wants to leave, he can do so voluntarily. At least, it will reduce the country’s population.”
He seems to have a particular liking for Bollywood personalities. He went ahead and invited A.R. Rahman to come back to the Hindu fold, when a fatwa was issued against him by Mumbai-based Raza Academy for composing music for the Iranian film Muhammad: Messenger of God. Adityanath, reacting to the incident, told the media: “The fatwa issued against Rahman is in itself laughable and if anyone wants to come(to Hindu fold) we will welcome him.”
A video emerged in 2014 which shows Adityanath saying in response to the alleged conversion of Hindus: “Why are Hindu girls marrying Muslim men? It should have been probed. But the Uttar Pradesh government couldn’t take a decision about the inquiry… We have decided that we will convert 100 girls of their religion if they convert one Hindu girl,” adding that he would conduct a purification ritual for everyone who wants to come back to the Hindu fold.
In another attack on Muslims, he demanded that non-Hindus be banned from entering the holy shrine Har ki Paudi in Haridwar, UP.
Earlier this year, speaking at the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Virat Hindu Sammelan, Adityanath raked up another controversy when he said he would install idols of Gauri-Ganesh in every masjid if given a chance. “Aryavart created Aryans; will make Hindus in Hindustan. Everyone can come to Kashi but only Muslims are allowed in Mecca and Medina.”
Attacking what he calls the ‘politics of appeasement’, he said, “This is the century of Hindutva, not just in India but in the entire world. Inclusive growth means where a graveyard as well as a crematorium gets money. A Muslim’s daughter gets scholarship as well as a Hindu’s daughter. Where madrasas get grants and also Sanskrit schools. My ‘sabka saath, sabka vikaas’ involves no appeasement politics.”
On World Yoga Day, Adityanath openly said that those who oppose Surya Namaskar (a Yoga posture which some believe has religious overtones) “should either leave India or drown themselves in ocean”.
In what seems to be the most offensive verbal attack on Muslims since the NDA government came to power, a supporter of Adityanath in his presence at a rally goaded people to dig up Muslim women’s graves and rape them.
In another hate speech against Muslims, Adityanath said at a rally in Noida, “There have been 450 riot cases in west UP in two-and-a-half years of Samajwadi Party rule because the population of a particular community is rising manifold. Why there are no riots in eastern UP? You can easily understand. In places where there are 10 to 20% minorities, stray communal incidents take place. Where there are 20 to 35% of them, serious communal riots take place and where they are more than 35%, there is no place for non-Muslims.”
Even as innocent men and even children have been killed by Sangh parivar-backed cow protection groups across north India, some senior BJP leaders seem to have also backed them without remorse.
One of the main voices to have backed the lynching of Mohammed. Akhlaq in Dadri last year is the BJP MLA and Muzaffarnagar riots-accused Sangeet Som. Som while addressing a rally in Dadri accused the Samajwadi Party-led UP government of “framing innocents and helping those who had slaughtered a cow”.
Invoking the Muzzafarnagar riots, he alleged that the UP government is appeasing Muslims ‘like it had done two years ago,’ and warned that he would give a ‘befitting reply’ to it. “Agar nirdoshon ke khilaf karyawahi ki gayi, to munh-tod jawab hamne pehle bhi diya hai aur abh bhi dena jante hain (If action is taken against innocent, we have given a befitting reply earlier and can do so again). We can give a reply whenever we want.”
Manohar Lal Khattar
In keeping with the sangh parivar’s historical penchant for teaching Muslims how to live in India, the BJP chief minister of Haryana told the The Indian Express, “Muslim rahein, magar is desh mein beef khaana chhodna hi hoga unko. Yahan ki manyata hai gau (Muslims can continue to live in this country, but they will have to give up eating beef. The cow is an article of faith here).” When he later claimed he was misquoted, the Indian Express uploaded the audio clip which proved he had not.
Earlier too, he had made regressive statements about increasing incidents of rape in India. “If a girl is dressed decently, a boy will not look at her in the wrong way,” he said. When asked about women’s freedom of choice, he had said like many in the Sangh parivar often say: “If you want freedom, why don’t they just roam around naked? Freedom has to be limited. These short clothes are western influences. Our country’s tradition asks girls to dress decently.” He added that pre-marital sex occurred when the minds of girls and boys “are not on the right track.”
Talking about changing the name of Aurangzeb Road to APJ Abdul Kalam Road, Union culture minister Mahesh Sharma said: “Mein samajhta hoon ki Aurangzeb koi adarsh nahin the. Prernasrot hi prerak ho sakta hai. Aurangzeb Road ka bhi naam badal kar ek aise mahapurush ke naam par kiya hai jo Musalmaan hote hue bhi itna bada rashtravadi aur manavtavadi insaan tha, APJ Abdul Kalam, unke naam par kiya gaya hai (I don’t think Aurangzeb was an ideal person. Only a source of inspiration can be inspirational. Aurangzeb Road has been named after such a great man who, despite being a Muslim, was a nationalist and a humanist, A P J Abdul Kalam. The road has been named after him),” laying bare his bias that most Muslims are not nationalists.
The culture minister also doesn’t seem to believe in the constitutional value of secularism. “Gita and Ramayana reflect India’s soul. But we also respect Quran and would include best thoughts from it. I respect Bible and Quran but they are not central to soul of India in the way as Gita and Ramayana are. As India’s cultural minister, I recommend that Ramayana and Gita should be part of our school curriculum and I am working extensively with HRD Minister Smriti Irani towards this,” he said, establishing a hierarchy of religions that is anathema to the constitution.
His sentiments about women’s equality are well-known. “Culture defines a nation. The time has come to win back our culture from the negative influence of Western culture. In our culture women of three generations cook food in the same kitchen… in Europe, a 16-year-old leaves home,” he said.
“Western culture is not bad but it may not be good for us. Here, 15-year-old children don’t leave their parents. A 14-year-old girl wanting a night out maybe all right elsewhere but not in India,” he said.
While BJP parliamentarians themselves rely on unverified information and communal opinions to sway people across the country, Jaitley’s comments about AAP lowering the public discourse smacks of condescension and a refusal to introspect. This short list I have provided of parochial statements made by BJP legislators is only a small part of a much larger catalogue. The regional leaders of BJP, and it allies like the Shiv Sena, have been engaging in such hate campaigns almost on a daily basis in their strongholds. Take for example Shyamal Goswami, a BJP leader from Birbhum, West Bengal, who was quoted as saying: “I would like to tell all my Hindu mothers and sisters that if they don’t have five children, in future there will be no balance in India. Don’t misunderstand me. If my Hindu mothers and sisters don’t have five children, hardly any Hindus will be left in India. To protect Hinduism and Sanatan Dharma it is necessary for all Hindus to give birth to 5 children.”
Or say the Rajasthan MLA Gyandev Ahuja saying bizarre things about Jawaharlal Nehru University – like how 3000 condoms and thousands of alcohol bottles were found on campus. Shiv Sena’s Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut, too, talked about scrapping the voting rights of Muslims. In a column published in Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna, he wrote: “Bal Thackeray in the past had demanded to revoke voting rights of Muslims as they are used as vote-banks and they have no future. The secular facade of people will be exposed when voting rights of Muslim will be scrapped.”
BJP president Amit Shah too has been known for his anti-Muslim statements in the past and disturbing the communal harmony in many areas. In the aftermath of the Muzaffarnagar riots, he justified the large-scale displacement and killing of Muslims by saying, “This election is about voting out the government that protects and gives compensation to those who killed Jats. It is about badla (revenge) and protecting izzat (honour). A man can live without food or sleep. He can live when he’s thirsty and hungry. But when he’s insulted, he can’t live. Apmaan ka badla toh lena padega.”
Addressing Rajput leaders on the same day, Shah provoked them in a communally-charged statement, “Mullah Mulayam’s government has allowed people who kill cows to prosper. In Gujarat, we don’t have any water, but we have milk. Here, you’re blessed. You have so much water. But all your cows are being killed, all your animals are ending up at the butchers.”
Jaitley and the BJP leadership would, perhaps, do well to look inwards and review how such loose statements have taken the level of political discourse in India to an all time low before pointing fingers at others.