Between 1995, when Justice J S Verma allowed Hindutva references in political speeches, and Monday, when the Supreme Court debarred politicians from seeking votes in the name of “caste, creed or religion”, there have been countless instances when political parties have covertly or overtly sought to use religion or religious leaders for electoral gains.
From the Agra stage last year, when Sangh Parivar leaders equated Muslims to demons while talking about the 2017 UP polls — then MoS Ram Shankar Katheria was present — to the Muzaffarnagar bypoll stage from where Union MoS Sanjeev Balyans invoked riots and rapes, the list includes a number of BJP leaders. But it is not just Hindu votes that are sought with a religious spin. Congress president Sonia Gandhi met the Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari before the 2014 polls with the plea that “secular” votes should not be split. Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee reads the kalma at poll rallies in Muslim majority areas and covers her head in a way typical of Muslim women.
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Last March, at a Sangh Parivar condolence meeting in Agra for a slain VHP worker, 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.”
A month earlier, Balyan was campaigning for BJP candidate Kapil Dev Aggarwal in Muzaffarnagar. His words: “Aaj se dhai saal pehle poori jo samasya is janpad mein shuru hui, jo danga hua…jo bhi yahan maujood hai aisa koi vyakti yahan nahi jiska apna koi jail nahi gaya aur bhagwan ke paas na gaya ho. Ek gussa thha… uss gusse ki wajah se ek sadharan parivar ka ek chhota bhai ya beta (ko) aapne sansad mein bheja (The whole issue — of riots — began in this area some two-and-a-half years ago…There isn’t anyone here who did not end up with a family member either dead or in jail. There was anger among the people, and that anger sent me to Parliament.”
Ahead of the 2014 assembly elections in Delhi, Union minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti urged voters: “Aapko tay karna hai ki Dilli mein sarkar Ramzadon ki banegi ya haramzadon ki. Yeh aapka faisla hai (You have to decide who forms the government in Delhi, will it be the sons of Ram or illegitimate children. This is your decision.”
Even when there have been no polls, there have been instances of BJP leaders attacking traditions of communities. Soon after he took charge, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar had said: “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).”
And during the renaming of Aurangzeb Road after A P J Abdul Kalam, Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma had said, “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, A P J Abdul Kalam… (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).”