(Secular Perspective April 16-30, 2019)
In the build up to the general elections, the BJP has intensified its campaign to seek support for the elections. One such step is the campaign, “main bhi chowkidar”. This campaign has seen the Prime Minister prefixing the word ‘chowkidar’ to his name in his Twitter profile. The trend caught on with many of his Cabinet and party colleagues following suit. This is a PR maneuver to promote the narrative/ impression amongst the general public that the BJP government is fighting against social evils and corruption.
“Your Chowkidar is standing firm & serving the nation. But, I am not alone. Everyone who is fighting corruption, dirt, social evils is a Chowkidar. Everyone working hard for the progress of India is a Chowkidar. Today, every Indian is saying-#MainBhiChowkidar,” he wrote on Twitter (Sharma, 2019). The claim of this campaign translates into the impression that the PM is a shining example of someone who is meticulously and diligently guarding the country- protecting the law and order and rule of law in the country as expected of the highest authority in the country. This campaign is critiqued from many quarters due to the poor state of Indian economy, rising unemployment, the easy escape of defaulting businessmen like Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi, Vijay Mallya and Lalit Modi who were allowed to leave the country after defaulting on loans worth hundreds of crores. The picture on the social front is not encouraging either. Though the campaign has soared in the public imagination and boosted the popularity of PM Modi, this exalted self proclaimed righteous chowkidar was silent when the law of the land was violated. He failed to check the hatred spewed by his own colleagues and party members through the rising instances of hate speeches.
The focus on hate speeches is urgent given the rise in the number of hate speeches. NDTV reported that as compared to the UPA II period (2009-2014), the NDA government (2014 to April 2018) witnessed a rise of hate speeches by 490 times. During the NDA period, a total of 45 political leaders made hateful comments. Of them, 35 politicians, or 78%, are from the BJP. 10 leaders, or 22% of the offenders, are from other political parties, including the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (Jaiswal, Jain, & Singh, 2018).
While this jump in the quantum of the hate speeches is alarming, what makes it more menacing is that most of these hate speeches are made by high ranking officials who are sworn by the Constitution to protect all citizens equally. Thus it’s a matter of deep concern that under the leadership which swears by vigilance to rid the country of social evil, its own party members who are high ranking officials like Member of Parliament, cabinet ministers, governors, Chief ministers of states, ministers at state level etc are violating the law and the “chowkidar” is found napping! No action or little action was taken against them when they blatantly violated the law by indulging in hate speeches to demonize the Muslims and incite enmity and hatred along religious lines. Under the Indian Penal Code, there are definitions and punishments mentioned for those who promote enmity based on religion.
153 A of IPC states, Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, promotes or attempts to promote, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities is a punishable offence.
Initially, at the beginning of the NDA rule, hate speeches were trivialized by dismissing them as banter made by “fringe” elements- non state actors who didn’t enjoy political authority. But the hate speeches made by these elected representatives and persons enjoying political power and equal measure of responsibility marks a new low in the political discourse of the country and also significantly in the law and order situation where they are enjoying immunity to openly indulge into hatemongering. These hate speeches now don’t come from the so called fringe elements but mainstream setting a new normal in the socio-political landscape of the country. These speeches have spelled out further polarization and strengthening of prejudices against the Muslims. This has culminated in fueling the process of their othering and marginalization. Below are some such statements though these are only some examples. There are many such statements reported but for limitation of space only the very glaring speeches which clearly violates the law are stated below.
Starting with Union ministers, there were speeches made by Ministers which sought to entrench the prejudice that Muslims are terrorists in the social imagination. Referring to Deoband, which is Muslim majority city, Giriraj Singh who is the Union Minister of state for small and medium enterprises said, “Earlier Deoband’s name was Deovrant. I don’t know what is it about this place that it produces people similar to (Islamic State Founder) Baghdadi and (Pakistan terror ideologue) Hafiz Saeed. This place is not a temple of knowledge. It is a hub of terrorism” (Rai, 2018). Extending this argument, in another speech he also encouraged the myth and almost a hysteria that Muslim population is increasing at a faster pace than that of Hindus in India thereby aiming at fanning the fear of the “minority” overtaking the “majority” and deepening this binary. In the same breath he associated Muslims in India with Pakistan, insinuating that their loyalty and affection lies with Pakistan. He said, “Hindu ka do beta ho aur Musalmaan ko bhi do hi beta hona chahiye. Hamaari aabadi ghat rahi hai. Bihar mein saat zila aisa hai jahan hamaari jansankhya ghat rahi hai. Jansankhya niyantran ke niyam ko badalna hoga, tabhi hamaari betiyaan surakshit rahengi. Nahi toh hamein bhi Pakistan ki tarah apni betiyon ko parde mein band karna hoga”(Singh, 2016).
Similarly, Minister of state for parliamentary affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, also strengthened this misplaced connection which implies Muslims are not natural citizens of India by saying, “Those who are dying without eating beef, can go to Pakistan or Arab countries or any other part of world where it is available” (Hindustan Times, 2015). Cow as suggested by Naqvi is enforced by Union minister for women and child development Meneka Gandhi as a scared symbol of nationalism. The people indulging in cattle trade are thus targets of hate and violence. She went on to say, “money earned is going into terrorism, it is going into bomb making” (India Today, 2014).
These narratives about Muslims being terrorists, beef eaters, anti- nationalists, growing at a fast pace is on one hand demonizing the Muslim community and on the other hand used as a justification for the agenda of establishment of Hindu Rashtra which is essential steeped in exclusion and hierarchies. The officials which are sworn to protect a secular India as enshrined in the Constitution are openly and stridently espousing for a Hindu Rashtra. Madhya Pradesh Education Minister Paras Jain said, “Whoever was living in India, irrespective of their religion, should consider it a Hindu Rashtra because a majority of people follow Hinduism here” (The Indian Express, 2015). On being asked about saffronization of education, MP from Agra and Minister of State for Human Resource Development Ram Shankar Katheria said, “yes, there will be saffronisation of education and of the country. Jo acha hoga, woh hoga (Whatever is good for the country will certainly happen) be it saffronisation or sanghwaad (propagation of the RSS ideology”) (Rashid, 2016).
The most alarming implication of Hindu Rashtra is also the secondary citizenship of non-Hindus. The message is always that, other religious communities will be inferior to Hindus and Hindu symbols, and as Sadhavi Niranjan Jyoti, Minister for State for Food Processing Industries, suggested even illegitimate. During campaigning for BJP before Delhi polls she said, “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)” (Indian Express, 2014). Such speeches have altered the whole discourse of citizenship in India which is now linked to religion. Shiv Sena leader (ally of BJP) and MP while advocating for disenfrancement of Muslims said, “Balasaheb had said 15 years ago that if the voting rights of Muslims is taken away for a few years, then the lobbying for their votes will stop” (Gupta & Mehta, 2015).
The Constitution vests immense power in the post of the Governor who is expected to be non-partisan and protect equality enshrined in the constitution. The governor of Assam, P B Acharya violated this norm utterly when he said, “they (Indian Muslims) are free to go anywhere. They can stay here (in India). If they want to go to Bangladesh or Pakistan, they are free to go. Many of them have gone to Pakistan. But if they are persecuted there.. Taslima Nasreen was persecuted there, she came here. If they come, we will give them shelter” (Kashyap, 2015).
The Chief Ministers of states were not to be left behind in their hatemongering. “Some people raise slogans about breaking the country into pieces. Political parties should refrain from making heroes of them. If people are unwilling to say Bharat Mata ki Jai, they have no right to stay in India”, said Devendra Fadnavis, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra (Sonawane, 2016). Mr. Fadnavis knows fully well that chanting of Bharat Mata ki Jai is not demanded in the constitution and not legally enforceable. But there is insistence on chanting since Muslims consider the slogan offending the essence of monotheistic Islam that forbids the deification of anything, including God or Muhammad, the Prophet. Chief Minister of Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar in response to the Dadri lynching said, “Muslim rahein, magar is desh mein beef khaana chhodna hi hoga unko. Yahan ki manyata hai gau” (Subramanian & Bhatia, 2015). He justified the gory lynching by upholding cow as scared national symbol.
BJP which is the ruling party, as apolitical party, is indulging in hate mongering by deepening the idea of Muslims naturally belong to Pakistan and India is the country for Hindus. The BJP chief leads by example here. He said, “Agar BJP galti se bhi Bihar me haarti hai to jay-parajay to Bihar me hogi, pataake Pakistan me chhutenge (if BJP loses in Bihar by mistake, then victory-defeat will be in Bihar but crackers will be burst in Pakistan)” (Indian Express, 2015). Another BJP member, Aseervatham Acharya said, “I will tell you this, Indian Muslims have their bodies in Tamil Nadu, but their hearts are in Pakistan” (The News Minute, 2015). This is a new low in the trend of jingoistic understanding of nationalism.
Section 123(3) of the Representation of the People Act makes canvassing for votes in the name of religion is a punishable offense. During the Assembly elections campaign in Uttar Pradesh, local BJP MLA Jagan Prasad Garg said, “You will have to fire bullets, you will have to take up rifles, you will have to wield knives. Elections are approaching in 2017, begin showing your strength from now onwards”. The crowds chanted, “Jis Hindu ka khoon na khaule, khoon nahin wo pani hai (the Hindu who doesn’t get angry isn’t Hindu enough)” (Bharadwaj, 2016). The party candidate, former RSS Pracharak Rampal Singh Pundhir, asserts his agenda: restoration of Hindu pride vis-a-vis Muslims. “This election has become a fight between Hindus and Muslims because Hindus are unsafe. The honour of mothers and daughters is threatened. Hindu traders face theft, dacoity. They are murdered. Deoband mein kisi Hindu ki himmat nahi hai ki kuch bol jaye (No Hindu has guts in Deoband to speak out),” says Pundhir (Bhardwaj, 2016). Local BJP leader Kundanika Sharma called other parties “jackals” for seeking votes of “traitors”. “But we want the heads of these traitors. This is not the time to sit quiet. Chhapa maaro, burqa pehno, lekin inhen gher-gher kar le aao. Ek sar ke badle dus sar kaat lo (Raid them, wear burqas, but corner them. Behead ten heads for one head)” (Bhardwaj, Indian Express, 2016).
It can’t be a mere coincidence or a weakness of the PM who is otherwise toxically masculine in his rhetoric about national issues cant check his own party members violating law and setting his house in order. The Prime Minister was deliberate in his silence and lack of action though he is portraying himself as a chowkidar. In his silence, the hate spewed and impunity with which laws were broken got normalized. The constitution and constitutional values which he should have protected were deliberately trampled upon while the PM chose to turn a blind eye. This silence amply demonstrates that main bhi chowkidar is a mere election campaign gimmick devoid of any sincerity and in fact the chowdikar has allowed social evils and lawlessness to perpetrate.