Right-Wing Hate Speech Runs Rampant in India’s Elections
Elections and Hate
Between February and March 2022, three key north India states are expected to go to the polls; among these states is Uttarakhand. The other two states—Uttar Pradesh and Punjab—are key to the fortunes of the ruling BJP, which will see its popularity tested after Modi had to withdraw three farm bills on November 19, 2021. Farmer unrest in both Punjab and Uttar Pradesh led to a year-long protest campaign that soured the reputation of the BJP in these two states and has created the possibility of new electoral maps being drawn in both these states in India. Uttar Pradesh (which has a population of approximately 200 million) is India’s most populous state, and the fortunes of the BJP there will determine the authority of Modi’s government in Delhi, India’s capital and the central government’s seat of power. A defeat in Uttar Pradesh, or even a reduced majority, would give the opposition greater confidence to challenge Modi’s fiat approach to policymaking and to counter the right-wing ideology propagated by the BJP.
Currently, the BJP dominates the state assembly in Uttar Pradesh (it won 312 out of the 403 seats in the assembly elections of 2017). The atmosphere in Uttar Pradesh remains tense for minorities (around 19 percent of the population in the state are Muslims), largely because various Hindu right-wing organizations—such as those represented at the religious conclave—have stoked the fires of hatred against the Muslim minority for generations. As part of its vote-gathering arsenal, the BJP has developed a strategy to provoke religious violence, polarize the population, and ensure that the majority Hindu vote gathers under its banner. This is what the BJP did to succeed in the 2014 general elections, before which local party officials engineered a pogrom in the town of Muzaffarnagar in August to September 2013 that resulted in the death of more than 60 people and left thousands of others displaced. In the aftermath of that violence, BJP leader—and now home minister of India (responsible for law and order in the country)—Amit Shah in 2014 told a crowd in Shamli in western Uttar Pradesh that the general election, which eventually led to the BJP seizing power in India, was about honor, and was “an election to take revenge for the insult” and “to teach a lesson to those who have committed injustice.”
In November 2021, the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (National People’s Party) formed an alliance for the Uttar Pradesh legislative elections. The Samajwadi Party had governed the state from 2012 to 2017 under the leadership of former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. The Rashtriya Lok Dal, meanwhile, brings heft in the western districts of Uttar Pradesh, where the farmers’ agitation had the greatest impact. This combination threatens the BJP’s divisive agenda. It is likely that more events like the Dharma Sansad focused on spreading and strengthening religious hate in Uttar Pradesh will be on offer to polarize the electorate to the benefit of the BJP.
Sewers of Hate
The religious conclave held in December 2021 suggested that there was a threat to Hindus in “Islamic India.” This is a theme that goes back to the 19th century, when leaders of the Hindu right wing began to say that Hinduism was being threatened by, among other things, the rising birth rate of Muslims. Facts apart, this idea festered in the sewers of right-wing thought continues to find favor in the currents within the BJP, such as Shah, who had described the minority Muslim population of Uttar Pradesh as the people “who have committed injustice.” To refer to India as “Islamic” is part of the exaggerated paranoia, a festivity of hatred that results in violence and in the consolidation of political power for the BJP.
Rather than face arrest for their hate speech, the men and women who spoke at the assembly filed a complaint with the police against “maulanas or clerics” and “the Quran, maulvis [Islamic scholars] of Haridwar and other unnamed Muslims.” Sadhvi Annapurna, who had called for the murder of Muslims, is heard in a video posted on Twitter on December 28, 2021, telling a police officer to “show us that you are not biased.” Yati Narsinghanand, who organized the religious conclave, interjects to say that the police officer is “biased and on our side.” Following the religious conclave in Haridwar, 21 “Hindu monks” who participated in the conclave formed a committee to hold more of these meetings and to “convert India into a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ [state].” “You [the Hindus in India] can fight them only with arms,” the monks said, with no need to elaborate on whom they meant during their reference to “them.”
Democracy in India is wounded by the acidic legacy of the Hindu right wing, which thrives on intimidation and false pride as the fuel for its success. The farmers’ agitation offered an alternative path. The two roads will be tested in these legislative elections expected to take place in early 2022.
This article was produced by Globetrotter.
Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.