Wednesday, May 29, 2024

BJP’s use of religion and hate speech to fuel electoral divides: misinformation and violations unveiled

As India’s Lok Sabha elections unfold, the nation is engulfed in fervent political campaigning. Amidst the promises and pledges, the BJP stands out for its inclination towards hate speech to polarise the nation.

We have all seen the news that during an election rally on 21 April in Rajasthan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred to Muslims as ‘infiltrators’ and those ‘who have more children’. In an attempt to swing the votes to his side, he not only used derogatory terms for the community but also accused former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of deciding to distribute the nation’s wealth among Muslims. 

In an all-out attack on the main Opposition party, the Prime Minister alleged that the Congress has a wealth redistribution plan that it will put in motion if it comes to power. He claimed that under this alleged plan, private property, including houses and jewellery, will be taken away and redistributed to the Muslims. 

Evoking a sense of hatred and fear among the rally attendees, the Prime Minister said of the Congress party, “They will take all your wealth and distribute it among the infiltrators.” He later also added, “This urban Naxal mindset, my mothers and sisters, they will not even leave your mangalsutra.”

These statements, aimed at swaying votes, might have been a dig at the opposition but they fuel animosity and division among religious communities, a problem that has skyrocketed ever since the BJP came into power.

Modi’s remarks actually refer to a statement by Manmohan Singh in 2006 where he said that India’s lower castes, tribes, women and, “in particular the Muslim minority” deserved to share in the country’s development equally. “They must have the first claim on resources,” Singh said. But a day later, his office clarified that Singh was referring to all of the disadvantaged groups including SC’s, ST’s, and women. 

BJP’s use of religion and hate speech in politics is not something new. Over the years many BJP MPs and leaders have resorted to extreme measures of hate speech that have led to the country’s religious divide. 

In 2023 alone, India recorded 668 documented hate speech events that targeted Muslims. The report was released by India Hate Lab, a Washington DC-based group that documents hate speech against India’s religious minorities. The report noted that while 255 events took place in the first half of 2023, “the number rose to 413 in the second half of the year, a 62% increase”.

Unsurprisingly, about 75% of the events (498) took place in BJP-ruled States, Union Territories (administered by the BJP-led Central government), and Delhi (police and public order comes under the Union government’s purview). 

While 36% (239) of the events “included a direct call of violence against Muslims”, 63% (420) included references to “conspiracy theories, primarily involving love jihad, land jihad, halal jihad and population jihad”. About 25% (169) featured speeches calling for targeting Muslim places of worship.

At such a time, PM Modi’s speech just emboldens BJP’s anti-muslim stance. 

The Election Commission (EC), on 23 April said that it was examining the complaint made against the Prime Minister’s speech. But on the same day, UP CM Yogi Adityanath said at a rally in Amroha, “If you look at the Congress’ manifesto, they say they will implement personal laws, meaning Sharia law.”

This is again a stroke of misinformation that further exacerbates communal tensions. The Congress manifesto instead mentions that they will ensure that, like every citizen, minorities have the freedom of choice of dress, food, language and personal laws. It further mentions that all laws that interfere unreasonably with personal freedoms will be repealed. 

No where in the Congress manifesto can one find the word “Sharia” law. Again, CM Adityanath’s speech was meant to be a jibe at the opposition but his use of the word Sharia law aims to antagonise the Muslim community. 

One can argue that this is a political tactic, but then is it really one? The BJP’s star campaigners are not even trying to hide the disdain. The layered insults have become outright extremist statements. There is no insinuation anymore, but clear cut allegations. 

Prime Minister Modi’s speech raised a lot of eyebrows including BJP’s Minority Morcha district president of Bikaner. Usman Ghani, who said that he was displeased with the PM Modi’s remarks was let go on account of tarnishing the public image of the party.

Ghani’s expulsion from the party sheds light on the BJP’s overall attitude towards the community. Moreover, the incident of BJP MP Ramesh Bhiduri comes to mind where he called Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MP Danish Ali terrorist and militant followed by anti-Muslim slurs like Mullah aatankwadi, bharwa (pimp), and katwa (circumcised)

“Baahar phenko iss mulle ko (Throw this ‘mullah’ out),” Bidhuri, the MP from South Delhi, also said.

One might think that Islamophobic comments like these made by a BJP MP during a televised Lok Sabha session would tarnish BJP’s image and might lead to his expulsion, or atleast suspension from the party. Instead, his words were expunged from records and his actions were met with a mere ceremonial ‘regret’ by the party. 

The latest incident of 27 April is another chapter to be added to the story of BJP’s ‘religion as propaganda’ regime. Only this time it wasn’t anti-Muslim but pro-Hindu. Tejasvi Surya, the BJP MP and Bangalore South candidate, was booked by the Chief Election Officer of Karnataka after receiving a complaint from a poll officer for allegedly soliciting votes on the grounds of religion through social media.

Surya had posted a video of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya on X (formerly Twitter), along with the text “PM Modi fulfilled the wish of crores of Indians” and “for Bharatiya has to survive, vote for Modi!”  Police have registered a non-cognisable report under Sections 123 (3) (appealing for votes on grounds of religion) and 126 (prohibition of public meetings during a period of 48 hours ending with hour fixed for conclusion of poll) of The Representation of the People Act, 1951.

The video in question was of a solar beam engineered to reflect on the idol of Lord Ram’s forehead in the temple. Anyone who knows how to separate religion and politics understand what this was, pure propaganda. This might not incite violence but this also gives a layered message to the people that the Ram Mandir will only prevail if Modi stays in power. 

But all of this is not new to the BJP, is it? We can recall a lot of incidents where BJP’s hate speech and use of religion has incited violence or has created the capacity for greater violence and damage in the country.

When talking about hate speech, one can simply not miss Anurag Thakur’s speech in January 2020 where ha raised the slogan “Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko (loosely translates to ‘shoot the traitors of the country’).” The speech that had a butterfly effect. First, it led to Jamia Millia’s student Shadab Najar to be shot in the arm during a CAA protest rally.

The same slogan (‘shoot the traitors’) raised by Kapil Mishra in March 2020 led to the horrible Delhi riots that killed 53 people but left hundreds injured and traumatised. 

BJP’s clear disdain for the Muslim community was always evident but during this election season, they are not masking it, even if it is a clear violation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC). 

Paragraph 1 of the MCC forbids parties and candidates from indulging in “any activity which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic”.

Invoking religion to seek votes, or making statements to the effect of creating disharmony between two communities, is a violation of the poll conduct and may invite prosecution under Section 125 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (Promoting enmity between classes in connection with election), Sections 153A, 153B, l7lC, 295A and 505(2) of the Indian Penal Code and Religious Institutions (Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1988.

On 26 April, EC issued a notice to BJP President JP Nadda regarding PM Modi’s comments and gave the party until 29 April to respond but it won’t be surprising if they face no consequences. 

The BJP is yet to respond to the complaints about Prime Minister Modi’s speech and also has failed to follow the MCC. In conclusion, BJP’s inflammatory rhetoric poses a threat not only to India’s ‘secular fabric’ but also whatever is left as a ‘democratic structure.’ It is imperative for political leaders to adhere to the MCC and engage in constructive dialogue rather than fostering religious polarisation for electoral gains.

Samah Qundeel is a freelance journalist currently pursuing master’s in Convergent Journalism at Jamia Millia Islamia.


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