The Delhi election campaign is in full swing and the Bharatiya Janata Party has dropped all pretence of fighting this one on a “development agenda”. The party’s entire campaign seems to be based on creating communal division and targeting the Muslim community.
It might be easy to dismiss the messaging coming out of the BJP’s stables as isolated rabble-rousing, but if you zoom out and look at statements given by various BJP leaders, the posters that have cropped up around Delhi and their official social media communication, a pattern emerges.
Currently in Delhi, the BJP is deliberately seeking to stir the communal pot and incite hatred. The narrative being built is clear as day: Muslims are traitors who need to be taught a lesson this election.
Let’s go over how this narrative is being built.
Home Minister Amit Shah has been holding public meetings across the capital, accompanied by Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari. Shah’s speeches lay the foundation for the narrative the BJP is deploying. At a meeting at Babarpur in North East Delhi on January 26, that are now being repeated, and amplified, by the party’s leaders down the line.
Here are a few of his statements:
“Your voice should reach the supporters of Shaheen Bagh. People of Babarpur, when you vote on February 8, you will not only make Naresh Gaur the MLA. You will also make the city and country safe and secure. Your vote will stop thousands of Shaheen Baghs.”
“When you give your vote, press the button so hard and with such anger that the current reaches Shaheen Bagh.”
“The opposition only worries about their vote bank. Do you think you’re their vote bank?” he asked. “No,” the crowd shouted back. “Who is their vote bank?” Shah asked. “Shaheen Bagh,” came the loud response.
“Modi ji gave citizenship to these people who needed help, and Kejriwal opposes it. Kejriwal, Rahul baba and Imran Khan speak the same language.”
The focus on the Shaheen Bagh protest is obvious. He is trying to tell his audience that the ongoing protest against the citizenship law is not good for India and the BJP is the only party that can prevent such protests. The subtext of the message isn’t lost on anyone.
The Shaheen Bagh protest is led primarily by Muslim women. And Shah wants the people to be angry about them. He wants Delhiites to vote keeping in mind that if they vote for an opposition party, it would be a statement of support for the protesters at Shaheen Bagh.
Down the line, people like BJP parliamentarian Pravesh Verma are building up on this “us versus them” narrative to sow fear and hate.
“Delhi knows the fire that was lit some years ago in Kashmir resulted in the rape of Kashmiri Pandit sisters and daughters. The same fire was lit in Uttar Pradesh, Hyderabad and Kerala. Now this fire is being lit in one corner of Delhi. This fire can enter the homes of Delhi’s residents and they need to think about this. Lakhs of people gather there,” Verma said, referring to Shaheen Bagh. “The people of Delhi will have to think and decide. They'll enter your homes, rape your sisters and daughters, kill them. Today you are safe only because Modi ji is the PM of India. If the PM changes, people of Delhi will not feel safe.”
Here, Verma is fanning the communal flames by painting the Shaheen Bagh protesters as rapists. Note the language of otherization on full display. The constant use of “yeh log”, or “those people” is indicative of how Verma is trying to distance the “real” Delhi voters from the people who have gathered at Shaheen Bagh.
To make things worse, Verma gave another statement, , "If our government is formed, then give me just a month after February. I will remove all the mosques built on government land in my constituency." Zero ambiguity here. It’s very clear he’s talking about Muslims.
Then came union minister Anurag Thakur, who picked up on Shah’s cue and built it up into mass hysteria. At a rally in Delhi, he did this.
That’s not all, after the chanting he , “Who are these traitors?”
“Kejriwal,” responded the crowd. “You forgot Pappu?” Thakur demanded, inciting laughter. Then he repeated what Shah had said at the January 26 rally, referring to Kejriwal and Gandhi, “These two are such that the story begins with Imran Khan and ends with these two.”
This particular slogan, “Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalo ko”, was heard at rallies in support of the citizenship law. One of those was led by . Asked why he had used the slogan, he responded that it was against people indulging in violence during protests against the new legislation.
That Thakur, a union minister, felt emboldened to shout this pernicious chant at a campaign rally indicates that this is coming from the top and that it’s being strategically used to fan communal hatred in Delhi ahead of the election. This is especially worrying because Thakur even put the opposition in his crosshairs, suggesting anybody not with the BJP was a traitor and should be shot dead.
Another minister who joined the ‘us versus them’ bandwagon by using Shaheen Bagh to make a point was Ravi Shankar Prasad. He declared, “Shaheen Bagh is emerging as a textbook case of a few hundred people seeking to suppress the peaceful majority.”
Peaceful majority? Alright then.
The BJP’s Delhi chapter and AAP have lately been involved in a , drawing much amusement from the social media crowd. It seems fun and games till you look at the kind of posts the Delhi BJP handle has been putting out, again pointing to the divisive narrative they are trying to build this election.
The tweets seek to demonise Muslims, with Kejriwal thrown in for effect. He is even shown donning a skull cap in case you didn’t understand the communal dog whistle.
Here’s another example. What seems to be the BJP using a parody video of “Dil diya hai jaan bhi denge” to highlight the failures of AAP carries a picture of Kejriwal in a skull cap. The video is interspersed with such depictions, followed by buses burning. Again, subliminal communal messaging is not lost on anyone.
Then there’s BJP national IT Cell head Amit Malviya, who has been obsessively tweeting about Shaheen Bagh, and pushing the overall divisive narrative forward.
“Underbelly of political Islam?” “Role of Pakistan’s deep state in inciting and influencing the anti-CAA narrative?” “Attempt to assert Muslim veto?”Conveniently, people like Malviya have been working towards solidifying this Hindu-Muslim divide while using Shaheen Bagh as the rallying point for their supporters.
The BJP has put up posters across Delhi highlighting the achievements of the Narendra Modi government.
The four achievements they are touting are:
Removal of Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir.
Ban on triple talaq.
New law to give citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from neighbouring countries.
Surgical strike in Balakote, Pakistan.
The poster proclaims that the BJP has changed the country and now it wants to change Delhi. The achievements being highlighted contain all the buzzwords the current regime is using to polarize: Kashmir, Muslims and Pakistan.
The four achievements are repeated constantly at campaign rallies as well, with a sprinkling of Imran Khan, Shaheen Bagh, JNU and “Tukde Tukde Gang”. These are essentially the only things the BJP feels are worth highlighting and they are fighting the Delhi election on these. Only secondary attention is given to the “failures” of the AAP government and its unfulfilled promises.
Since the BJP has not released its manifesto yet, one is left wondering what their agenda is for this election on the development front. Currently, the whole and sole agenda appears to be to divide, label, and stoke fear among the people.
The pattern is out there for everyone to see and it’s getting more obvious by the day.