New Delhi: Why did many young Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, many of whom were brought up in multi-denominational and secular backgrounds, start speaking the language of hate?
Is it because they are bound somewhere to use the tone and tenor that took party leaders to the heights they now command? Or is the political climate and social discrimination in the country so disturbed and deepened that this is the only language they believe will appeal to the masses?
These are some of the questions that arise when we see repeated statements from relatively young politicians that amount to or come close to hate speech.
The latest such episode involved BJP MP from West Delhi Parvesh Verma, who, along with several other speakers, was accused of doing so. Incendiary speeches at Virat Hindu Sabha meeting held in North East Delhi earlier this month. By the way, in February 2020, communal riots took place in the same part of Delhi, killing 53 people, most of whom were Muslims.
A murder case was used to create hatred
The meeting was called to protest the brutal killing of a young man, Manish, in what Delhi police called an old rivalry. While the six accused – Sajid, Aalam, Bilal, Faizan, Mohsin and Shakir – were arrested, right-wing groups tried to use the incident to incite hatred.
Verma did not name any particular community in his speech, but called for a “general boycott” of “these people” – leaving little to guess who he was referring to.
He was quoted as saying: “Wherever you see them, I say if you want to change their mind… then there is only one way, and that is a total boycott… Do you agree with that? Raise your hands if you agree. Say with me that we will boycott them completely, we will not buy goods from their shops, we will not use them.”
Although he later defended his speech by saying that he had only called for a boycott of the perpetrators of violence, a number of Muslim organizations, including the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimin (AIMIM) and Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, protested the incident and Verma and asked for action against others who spoke there.
Delhi Police is probing allegations of hate speech by Hindutva groups, including a BJP MP
The Jamaat also said that the delegation visited the Delhi Police and urged the Special Commissioner of Police (CP) to ensure that a First Information Report (FIR) was registered against the speakers. Police said they have registered a case against the organizers of the event only under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for not obtaining permission to host the event.
Children of liberal leaders who adopted a radical approach
While Verman, who hails from the Jat community, is known to be outspoken on matters of religion, what has surprised many is how the son of former BJP Delhi chief minister Sahib Singh Verman has adopted such a radical approach.
Sahib Singh was never known to harbor any ill will against the minorities. In fact, when he won the Outer Delhi Lok Sabha seat earlier, it was the country’s most populous seat, representing 21 of the national capital’s 70 assembly segments – many of which were in a large minority.
It is now said that the central BJP has sought details of the Verma incident, allegedly because Gujarat assembly elections are coming soon and the party does not want to antagonize the Muslim community in Pasman, which is mainly engaged in trade and business. which he tries to attract the state.
The BJP is now also mindful of possible reactions from Islamic (and other) nations on such issues. Not long ago, controversial comments made by the party’s former spokeswoman Nupur Sharma about the Prophet Muhammad sparked major controversy and invited condemnation from a number of nations in the Arab world and beyond.
But so far, the BJP has not issued any warning to Verma for what he said. It is also a demonstration of the changes the saffron party has witnessed in the last few decades. In the past, he often criticized or warned his leaders when he felt they were overstepping certain limits.
“Center right” “ultra right”
One can recall the year 2009 when Varun Gandhi, the former BJP candidate from Pilibhit, made public statements that led to the registration of an FIR against him. At the time, the BJP had condemned his actions.
Varu, who is the son of late Sanjay Gandhi and Maneka Gandhi, is said to have spoken against Muslims at an election rally. “It is not a hand (Congress symbol), it is the power of a lotus (BJP symbol). He will behead… Jai Shri Ram,” he was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.
And in another meeting, the agency quoted him as saying, “Whoever raises a finger against Hindus or who thinks that Hindus are weak and leaderless; if anyone thinks that these leaders are licking our boots for votes; Whoever raises a finger against the Hindus, then I swear on the Gita that I will cut off that hand.”
Varun’s aunt and Congress leader Sonia Gandhi was one of the first to criticize his remarks as “unethical and against the law”. The BJP also distanced itself from the vitriolic comments. Its then leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi called the speech “a manifestation of his family’s erstwhile Congress culture” and insisted that the outburst “does not reflect the traditional culture of the BJP”.
As with Verma, it was difficult to understand what made a left-of-center thinker like Varun among his close associates to present such a side of him.
Then, before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when Giriraj Singh, the BJP leader from Bihar, called on people to suspend Narendra Modi as “pro-Pakistani”, he threatened that the BJP would “have no place in India” once he arrived. The ruling party again called on its leaders to be “restrained”.
Does a radical approach ensure a rise in the political ladder?
However, the now firmly entrenched BJP does not feel the need to punish its leaders – at least publicly – who believe that hate speech will help them climb the political ladder.
This seems to be the reason why people like Verma or Kapil Mishra, who were Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLAs before joining the BJP in 2019, feel compelled to make such statements.
In Mishra’s case, months after joining the saffron party, he courted a major controversy when he likened the upcoming Delhi assembly polls in January 2020 to a match between India and Pakistan. The following month, at a rally against anti-CAA protesters, he was accused of trying to intimidate the police into removing protesters from the Jaffrabad and Chand Bagh areas for three days and then threatening to take matters into his own hands. will “take to the streets” and “will not rest”.
Hours after this speech, violence broke out in Northeast Delhi. Even East Delhi MP Gautam Gambhir said “Kapil Mishra’s speech was unacceptable”. However, Mishra was not punished for inciting violence.
Since then, he has become a regular on televised news debates to offer ultra-right views on issues. What still baffles many is how a man who in 2016 had called Modi an “ISHI agent” in the Delhi assembly could change his complexion so quickly and so radically.