Parties have employed every trick in the arsenal to persuade voters — sama, dana, bheda and danda — gentle conciliation, material inducement, engineering cracks in the opposition and the threat of force. This election has seen some of the most direct intimidation of voters.
NCP leader Ajit Pawar was accused of threatening Baramati villagers that their water supply would be cut off if they did not vote for Supriya Sule. While the Election Commission is examining the veracity of the video where he is caught doing this, it has already sent a notice to SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav for threatening teachers in Bulandshahr to vote for him or lose their jobs.
Now, Giriraj Singh, BJP Lok Sabha candidate from Nawada, has openly warned that “those who want to stop Narendra Modi are looking towards Pakistan for support. In the days to come, there will be no place… in India for such people, their place will be in Pakistan.” He said this at a rally with former party president Nitin Gadkari watching, and not contradicting his statement. While BJP leaders like Sushil Modi have condemned his words, and Rajnath Singh is reported to have reprimanded him, Singh has stuck by his words.
While threatening to withhold public services or reverse benefits is regrettable, this “send them to Pakistan” swagger is particularly problematic. It is not a crude transaction of the kind that Pawar or Yadav spoke of — it is a meaningful, deliberate message, that those who oppose Narendra Modi have no place in India. It combined associations of majoritarianism, menace towards anyone who held a different view, and clear Hindu nationalist overtones in the invocation of “Pakistan” as a fitting place for minorities or those attached to a secular ideal.
Like Amit Shah’s incendiary speeches in Uttar Pradesh, Giriraj Singh’s words cannot be unsaid easily, and the fears they create will not end when election results are declared; they linger like a malevolent fog. A government that concerns itself only with the interests of its supporters, and is actively hostile towards others, is a dangerous prospect. For his own sake, Narendra Modi must allay fears of such a toxic environment.