As a, ahem, Times Now panellist once told a BJP spokesperson, ‘Every party has a fringe, your party is the fringe.’
Nupur Sharma’s political career was arguably a whimper but it was certainly paused with a bang. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s national spokesperson was suspended on Sunday for making denigrating remarks against Prophet Muhammad on Times Now in May. Her colleague Naveen Jindal was expelled for similar antics. The BJP’s decision was swift and animated by the outrage in the Arab world against Nupur’s remarks, conflated as views of the party in power. Playing it safe, the Narendra Modi government dismissed its own party spokesperson’s remarks as “views of fringe elements”.
Strong words, but rather untenable. Are Nupur and Naveen really fringe? As spokespersons, they were tasked with transmitting the party line on pressing matters to the public. Nupur was even fielded against Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal in the 2015 Delhi election. Naveen too held an influential position in the party as its media head in Delhi.
In the BJP’s ranks, Nupur and Naveen’s talent for crassness isn’t unique. Top party leaders and parliamentarians, in no way “fringe”, have taken turns to bait Muslims and rant against Islam. A Google search of “BJP” plus “hate speech” alone provides an adequate idea. But in case you were too caught up, here’s a lowdown on how anti-Muslim rhetoric forms the backbone of the saffron party’s discourse.
Let’s start at the very top. Prime Minister Modi is quite particular about his sartorial choices, but also those of other people. During the 2019 public protests against his government’s new citizenship law, Modi told a rally in Jharkhand that those “spreading the fire” could be “identified by their clothes”. Since the protests were led by Muslims in various parts of the country, the reference was not lost on anyone.
In 2019, his chief lieutenant Amit Shah, then president of the BJP, called supposed Muslim migrants from Bangladesh “termites” and vowed to throw drive them into the Bay of Bengal if his party came to power. Not long after, he became the country’s home minister.
Shah’s frenemy, Adityanath is always just a stone’s throw away from hate speech. He has claimed that before he took over as Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister in 2017, ration meant for the poor was “digested” by those who say “abba jaan”. That’s code for Muslims, in case you were wondering.
Skipping wonder Anurag Thakur cannot be left out from this list. The BJP leader from Himachal Pradesh was a high-profile face of abetment to violence during the citizenship law protests. Then a junior finance minister, Anurag took the stage at a Delhi rally and called for murdering “traitors”. “Desh ke gaddaron ko'', he shouted, and the crowd returned, “Goli maaro saalon ko”. Shoot the bloody traitors. The following year, he faced the consequences for such “fringe” behaviour: he was ordained union minister for sports, youth affairs and minister for information and broadcasting.
BJP parliamentarians such as Parvesh Verma of Delhi took the cue. A few days before the Delhi election in 2020, he remarked that the city’s voters must think hard about which party to support. “Lakhs of people gather there,” he said, referring to Shaheen Bagh, one of the centres of the citizenship law protests. “People of Delhi have to think and take a decision. They will enter your houses, rape your sisters and daughters, kill them. There is time today, Modi ji and Amit Shah won’t come to save you tomorrow.”
Six years earlier, ahead of the 2014 general election, Fatehpur MP Niranjan Jyoti had asked voters at a public rally in Delhi to choose if they wanted a government of “Ramzadon” or “haramzadon”, Ram’s children or bastards. She was reelected from Fatehpur in 2019.
Sakshi Maharaj, MP from Unnao, is a renowned motormouth with a penchant for petty claims. He is the director of the Sakshi Maharaj Group which runs 17 educational institutes and 50 ashrams across India. In 2014 he alleged that Muslim madrasas imparted “terror education” and young boys were offered cash rewards for “love jihad”. The Maharaj did not reveal his source and one cannot be certain he has one. In 2015, he was heard telling an audience that “the concept of four wives and 40 children just wouldn’t work in India but it’s high time that every Hindu woman must produce at least four children to protect the Hindu religion”.
Then there’s Pragya Thakur, BJP’s MP from Bhopal. In 2019, Pragya, an accused in the Malegaon bombing, declared that she was proud of her role in demolishing the Babri Masjid in 1992. “Why should I regret the demolition of the structure? I am proud of it,” she said. “A few unwanted elements were trying to enter Lord Ram’s temple. We had to remove them. I am proud of it.”
The prime minister, home minister, sports minister and assorted MPs aren’t just the core of the BJP, they are the BJP. Unless the BJP government has stealthily amended Oxford English Dictionary, the party’s own definition of fringe swallows them whole. And so, we go back to another Times Now panellist, our very own Abhinandan Sekhri, who once pointed out to a BJP spokesperson, “Every party has a fringe, your party is the fringe.”
Devansh Mittal and Sushanto Mukherjee are Newslaundry interns. Taif Altaf and Anna Mathew contributed research. Ayush Tiwari contributed writing.