Delhi Polls, Hate Speech and BJP's Most Reckless Communal Campaign yet

Fighting an election rooted in the concerns of the people is far more challenging than running a feckless campaign.

From all indications, the Delhi poll campaign is going to go down as one the most reckless communal campaigns launched by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), since ascending to power at the Centre in 2014. Less than a week ahead of the polls, outflanked by its rival, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the BJP has decided to run a rash and heedless campaign, consequences be damned.

The Election Commission, the institution supposed to end such continued violation of the model code of conduct, seems to dawdle and indulge the habitual law breakers. The Commission’s half-hearted reprimands to those breaking every code in the rule book, have the very effect they are meant to have. The tepidness of such measures, the reluctance with which the EC gently raps the guilty leaders, further emboldens them to dig in their heels and stick to the communal refrain.

In creating this macabre political theatre, the BJP hopes to dent AAP’s well-entrenched credibility among the people of Delhi – with the hate campaign standing in for the desperate means of a desperate party. The BJP is not interested in engaging in issues of governance. The 2014 talk of vikas has long since been dumped. Communal polarisation is what solely interests the BJP now and occupies all of its attention.

From Bengal’s BJP state president Dilip Ghosh to Union minister Anurag Thakur, BJP party leaders are talking only of guns and bullets.

The series of events that played out over this Saturday encapsulates the mind of the saffron party and what the BJP hopes to achieve through this orchestrated campaign of intimidation. After all, as home minister Amit Shah succinctly reminds us – heed the chronology to understand the larger project.

Hours before 25-year-old Kapil Gujjar opened fire at Shaheen Bagh on Saturday evening, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath accused the protesters of “supporting terrorists” in Kashmir at a rally in East Delhi.

Making outlandish claims, the UP CM charged his Delhi counterpart Arvind Kejriwal with “supplying biryani” to the Shaheen Bagh protesters. Those protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), Adityanath said, do not want India to emerge as a major world power (“sreshtha Bharat”).

At a different site in Shaheen Bagh, the shooter, before being overpowered, shouted  “Hindu Rashtra zindabad” and “I want Hindu Rashtra.” “Hamare desh mein kisi ki nahin chalegi, sirf Hinduon ki chalegi (in our country, only Hindus will have their way, no one else will)” and “Jai Shri Ram,” he declared. This Sunday marks the 50th day of continued protests at Shaheen Bagh.

Also read: Bullets, Biryani, Shaheen Bagh: The Essence of Adityanath’s Delhi Poll Speeches

The same day, on the eve of budget presentation, Anurag Thakur, the minister of state for finance, was seen praying before before a Hanuman idol at home. “The Modi government believes in ‘sabka sath, sabka vikas (development for all),” he told ANI.

But that’s not what Thakur emphasised at an earlier rally, which seemed to have incentivised the shooters at Jamia Millia Islamia and Shaheen Bagh. At a poll meeting in Rithala constituency last month, the Union minister led a crowd in chanting, “Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro…” (Shoot the traitors). A couple of days later, on Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary, a man whipping out a gun, opened fire and injured one student at Jamia Millia Islamia.

BJP supporters listening to UP CM Adityanath’s speech ahead of the Delhi polls in February 2020. Photo: PTI

Heed the chronology of violence – in speech and in action. Heed the prime minister’s silence after every act of such violence – from the killing of anti-CAA protesters in UP, to validation of violence as a means of control, by his party’s major and minor leaders. Regrettably, there is little or no room for obfuscating the real aim behind such the studied silence.

In the midst of this palpable hate, lost are the very essential markers of what make for a model of good governance. The AAP government’s emphasis on education and the BJP-led central government’s blithe indifference to education cannot be over emphasised in the current poll campaign.

Also read: Delhi Police Grants Permission to Chant ‘Shoot the Traitors’, Then Backtracks

The AAP’s campaign is pivoted around two key issues – health and education. The party has drawn attention to its performance in these two customarily neglected sectors. While AAP focussed on the improved government schools and mohalla clinics, the BJP talked up violence. Campaigning in Madipur constituency on January 25, BJP MP Parvesh Verma, reportedly, described Arvind Kejriwal as a “terrorist.”  In a video of the incident Verma warned voters “if Kejriwal returns, Shaheen-Bagh type of people will take over streets.”

The thing is, fighting an election rooted in the concerns of the people is far more challenging than running a feckless campaign. A campaign that brings in its trail dangerous implications for a range of people – Muslims, dissidents, students, women. “The targeting of enemies – minorities, liberals, secularists, leftists, urban naxals, intellectuals, assorted protestors – is not driven by a calculus of ordinary politics. It is driven by will, ideology and hate, pure and simple,” wrote Pratap Bhanu Mehta recently.

It is indeed ironic that on the day that BJP leaders queued up to pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi, Jamia witnessed an incident of shooting. We are yet to hear its unequivocal condemnation from top BJP leaders. What we do hear instead is direct and indirect endorsement of hate speech and violent action. It seems that the real objective – or the “story” as we call it, is often hidden is words that are not spoken.