With less than a fortnight left for Delhi elections, the BJP leadership seems to have got a sudden gleam in its electoral eye: A little corner in this sprawling city-state, Shaheen Bagh. The party’s campaigners, from Union Home Minister Amit Shah to local rabble-rousers like Kapil Mishra, frame the protests in this Muslim-dominated neighbourhood against the new citizenship law — that excludes Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh — as challenging not only the party and the government but also the sovereignty of the state. Last week, Mishra called Shaheen Bagh “a mini-Pakistan” and compared the election to an India-Pakistan contest, prompting the Election Commission (EC) to ban him from campaigning for two days. Shah picked up from where Mishra left and exhorted a rally to “press the button with such anger that the current is felt at Shaheen Bagh”.
So, when Anurag Thakur, a junior minister in the Narendra Modi government, hollers, “desh ke gaddaron ko”, and gets the crowd to howl, “goli maaro saalon ko”, he is, clearly, reading from a script that was first flaunted by Mishra. In doing so, Thakur, who has earlier packaged himself as the players’ voice in the cricket board, is now being a minion who echoes his masters, says what he thinks they want to hear. At the rally, later attended by Shah and senior BJP minister Giriraj Singh, Thakur clearly knew what the chorus was. Speaking to this newspaper, he was being too clever by half when he said he didn’t know what the mob would say. And a mob it clearly was, its frenzy revealing how exactly lynch mobs are created. A day later, on Tuesday, BJP MP from Delhi, Parvesh Sahib Singh Verma, invoked the violence that forced Pandits to flee the Kashmir Valley in the 1990s while referring to Shaheen Bagh. “Today, a similar situation has arisen at a place in Delhi. Lakhs of people gather there… They can enter your houses, rape your sisters and daughters and kill them,” he said. In the raucous marketplace of ideas that is an election campaign, politicians push the limits of free speech and poll rhetoric is given a wide berth, as it should. But Thakur and Verma incite violence and peddle hate. They reveal a contempt for the voters of Delhi — the belief that such hate and trash talk will translate into votes. The fact that they can get away without even a slap on the wrist shows who holds their hands.
The Election Commission, the institution with the remit to draw the red lines during an election campaign, needs to step in. Azam Khan and Pragya Thakur have been banned from campaigning for violating the Model Code of Conduct in the past. The institutional credibility of the EC to ensure a fair campaign, no matter how high the office of the violator, is on test. Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora and his colleagues should ensure due process and let Thakur & Co. know that they can get cheers, even votes, but they can’t get away with incitement to violence.
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