Updated: December 25, 2021 9:22:45 am
The unabashed and abundant hate speech on stage at a religious conclave in Haridwar was deeply offensive. The open Muslim-baiting and exhortations to Hindus to take up arms, the calls for violence and genocide, the toxic fantasy of a “Hindu rashtra” where there is no masjid or madarsa, directly challenge the letter and spirit of the constitution. In the aftermath, many have also rightly pointed to the apparent double standard — a comic can be arrested for statements he didn’t make, an activist for an NGO toolkit, while police and the administration in Dehradun have been notoriously slow to act in the days after the open spewing of communal poison. And yet, it must also be said that even as cases against activists and comedians point to the weaponisation of law to shrink spaces for free expression, the problem showcased in Haridwar requires a political more than a legal response. For a start, and most of all, it needs the BJP, as the ruling party in the state where the event took place, and also as the political ideology and organisation that was intimately addressed and invoked from the stage, to distance itself from the frenzy of hate, and to repudiate it.
Ashwini Upadhyay, former Delhi BJP spokesperson, was present at the “Dharma Sansad”, other speakers have been photographed with prominent BJP leaders. Upadhyay has a track record: He was arrested in August for an event in Jantar Mantar where hate speeches were heard loud and clear. To argue that these are elements of the frothing fringe is missing the point because the party’s complicities run wider and deeper. Its politics has often, implicitly and explicitly, sanctioned and emboldened the spectres of “Hinduism in danger” and the Othering of the Muslim minority, which were the main messages from Haridwar. In the run-up to the assembly elections in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, this polarising rhetoric will increase. The Haridwar conclave, therefore, underlines the political challenge for a party that talks up its achievements in governance, speaks of “sabka vishwas”, and a “new India” for all, while also aiming for a majoritarian consolidation. The question after Haridwar is: Does the BJP consider the vile grandstanding and threat-making there an acceptable form of political discourse? If it doesn’t, if it thinks that a line was crossed at Haridwar, it needs to say so.
Of course, the BJP can shrug off responsibility for the conclave, and choose to keep silent, while hoping that this will rally its base ahead of key elections. That would be a let-down. Because even as Haridwar showcased the threat of unchecked intolerance, it also presents the mainstream political party with an opportunity. To draw the red lines of what is politically acceptable, and what is not, in a diverse democracy. If it doesn’t, it will send another signal to the lumpen within that they can get away — even if they call for murder.
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