It was not exactly a mea culpa but close. Last week, Home Minister Amit Shah acknowledged that the poisonous, hate-filled speeches that he and his team made in their desperate efforts to win Delhi could have lost them the election. He made a few wrongful denials and defended his own very offensive remark that voters should ‘press the button so hard that the current should be felt in Shaheen Bagh.’ But for a man who is usually in aggressive, attack mode, to go so far as admitting that the poison and hate spewed by his lieutenants may have hurt the BJP in Delhi is both surprising and welcome. Amit Shah has been the face of the Narendra Modi government in its second coming, and it has to be sadly said that he has behaved as if he has no responsibility at all towards India’s Muslim citizens. He has gone out of his way in many of his speeches to almost gleefully hammer this point home.
If the protests that we have seen in cities and campuses across the country have been led by Muslims, it is because they have got the message that the Home Minister and his team wanted to send. BJP ‘intellectuals’ have tried in prime-time TV debates to make the case that it is not the changes in the citizenship law that have caused Muslim students, women and children to take to the streets but the realisation that they have become electorally irrelevant. They say that it is because the BJP has proven that it can win a full majority in the Lok Sabha without the Muslim vote that the protests have been so widespread. Other ‘thinkers’ assert that it is because the ‘appeasement’ of Muslims has stopped that they are so angry. It is time to talk about this vaunted appeasement because what that ugly, little word in fact conceals is a litany of betrayals.
In those long gone days of ‘secular’ governments in Delhi, there were far too many political leaders who said and did a lot of stupid things that looked like appeasement in Hindu eyes. The truth is that most of the things they said and did served entirely to make Muslims a target. So we had one prime minister who declared that Muslims should have ‘first right’ to India’s resources. This infuriated even secular Hindus who do not believe that Muslims should be treated as lesser Indians. And, before this there was that other prime minister who had no problem giving Muslims their own personal law by implementing only that portion of Shariat law that allows Muslim men to avoid supporting their divorced wives. This infuriated most Indians.
Anybody who believes that either of these things helped Muslims lift themselves out of the wretched poverty in which most of them live has to be nuts. But, those of Hindutva disposition have used these very things to demonise Muslims in many, many elections. It is important to remember that in those forgotten days of Lal Krishna Advani’s chariot ride to Ayodhya, the slogan that had the most resonance was ‘ek samvidhan, ek vidhan’. One Constitution, one law. Important to remember that it was that Rath Yatra that took the BJP from two seats in the Lok Sabha to nearly a hundred in the short space of five years. Important to remember that it was in that time that men like Yogi Adityanath entered politics. Important also to remember that despite the terrible riots that came after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the wounds of that time have to a large extent healed.
The wounds that we see now are new. They began to form after Mohd Akhlaq was lynched in a village near Delhi in which his was the only Muslim family. Then came regular killings by vigilante gangs who roamed the highways in search of Muslim cattle traders. Whenever these lynchings happened in states ruled by the BJP, justice was never done. Those in charge of law enforcement seemed to take an indulgent view of these horrific killings. So the wounds deepened. It is into these wounds that hate and venom have been poured in the past six months.
The Home Minister has acknowledged what happened during the campaign for Delhi, but has he noticed the venom and vitriol vomited out daily by his team on social media? As a regular victim of the BJP’s Twitter trolls may I say that the mildest abuse that I face is being called a Pakistani. Muslims who dare to raise their voices against this campaign of hate risk being charged with treason. It does not help that senior ministers routinely launch tirades against what they call the ‘tukde tukde gang’, and of course there is always the implication that those who belong to this gang are Muslims and that they should all be sent off to Pakistan.
So, thank you Home Minister for at least acknowledging that the campaign in Delhi took on a tone that ended up harming the BJP’s chances. Could you now do something about the ugly forces that have been unleashed in the past few months and that could end up harming not just the cause of Hindutva, so zealously supported by you, but India. That is the bigger danger whose shadow looms long and gets longer every day.
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