The BJP should not seek to hide its divisive politics behind the tragic death of Hindus in the recent violence in Delhi. But then again, its entire ideological foundation rests on two pillars: victimhood and revenge. The ideological progenitors of the BJP, the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS (Rāshtriya Swāyamsēvak Sangh), premised their politics on portraying Hindus as the victims of centuries-old machinations by ‘outsiders’, and most notably by Muslims.
A cursory analysis and history of the genesis of Hindutva-right wing Hindu nationalism demonstrates the manner in which fear and anxiety have been systematically deployed to propel a politics that thrives on hate.
- A cursory analysis of the genesis of Hindutva-right wing Hindu nationalism shows the way in which fear and anxiety have been systematically deployed.
- The old allegation of ‘treason’ has been echoed in recent months by various members of the BJP.
- Members of civil society have echoed the BJP’s fear-mongering, with the editor of Swarajya claiming, in a tweet that was later deleted, that Hindus are in a ‘civilisational war’.
- In the aftermath of the Delhi violence, there has been an effort by both the media and BJP to portray the violence as one between equal sides.
Dog-Whistle Politics & the Age-Old Allegation of ‘Treason’
VD Savarkar was the intellectual forefather of Hindu Nationalism, and his portrait today hangs in the Indian Parliament. He became notorious, as Vinayak Chaturvedi argues, for his open call to “Hinduize Politics and Militarize Hindudom”, and “for his anti-Muslim and anti-Christian politics, and for his advocacy of violence in everyday life.” MS Golwalkar (1906-1973), the second sarsanghchalak or head of the RSS, an organisation that continues to provide ideological direction to the BJP and claims Prime Minster Modi as a lifelong member, wrote about Indian Christians and Muslims that “they are born in this land, no doubt. But are they true to its salt? ... No.”
He goes on to say: “They have also developed a feeling of identification with the enemies of this land. They look to some foreign lands as their holy places. They call themselves Sheikhs or Syeds… So we can see that it is not merely a case of change of faith, but a change even in national identity. What else is it if not treason, to join the camp of the enemy leaving behind the mother nation in the lurch?”
It is exactly this old allegation of ‘treason’ that has been echoed in recent months by various members of the BJP.
The slogan that came to define the BJP’s campaign in Delhi was ‘desh ke ghaddaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko” or ‘Shoot the bastards who are traitors to their country.’ This slogan was used in public rallies by BJP MPs, ministers, and of course, online by the BJP’s IT cell. The dog-whistle politics are clear, and although no one overtly says that Muslims are the ‘traitors’, the implication is clear. In the aftermath of the protests against the citizenship law, there has been a concerted effort by senior members of the BJP to portray the protesters as ‘anti-nationals’, ‘traitors’, and most recently, as ‘jihadis’.
Fanning the Flames
The prime minster claimed that he could recognise these protesters from their ‘clothes’, a reference no doubt to the veils and skullcaps worn by Muslims. The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, spoke about how those protesting should be ready to take bullets, and certain members of parliament and other office bearers lamented about how it would have been better if Muslims had left India for Pakistan in 1947. Indeed, members of civil society have echoed the BJP’s fear-mongering, with the editor of right wing news portal Swarajya claiming, in a tweet that was later deleted, that Hindus are in a ‘civilisational war’. Similarly, Narsinghanand Saraswati, a Hindu priest from Dasna in Western Uttar Pradesh said on the evening of the violence: “If we don’t remove an evil like Islam from society, how will we survive?”
In an earlier statement he also said: “when your religion needs, you should fight a war. And to pick up arms for religion is not a paap (sin) but punya (virtue).”
There have been some provocative Muslim voices too, but the fact remains that it would be naïve to ignore the asymmetry in power between those who preach hate from positions of power and those who do so as ostensible opponents of the BJP.
Of course, the politics of both simply reinforce each other.
Building an Atmosphere of Hate & Distrust
Given the atmosphere of hate and distrust that the BJP has deliberately created over the last few months in particular, and over the last few years in general, it is not surprising therefore that the recent violence in Delhi followed a provocative speech by Kapil Mishra, a member of the BJP, on the eve of President Trump’s visit to India. Having lost his own election, Mishra threatened that he would have a protest near Jaffarabad Metro Station cleared if the police did not do so.
Previously, in December 2019, Mishra had used the slogan “desh ke ghaddaron ko, goli maro saalon ko” at various pro-citizenship law rallies, and in January, he was banned from campaigning by the Election Commission for provocative statements, including a tweet in which he wrote: “Pakistan has entered Shaheen Bagh. Mini Pakistans are being created in the city. The law of the land is not being followed in Shaheen Bagh, Chand Bagh and Indralok. Pakistani rioters are occupying Delhi roads.”
The equivalence he draws between Indian Muslims protesting for their rights and Pakistanis is, as was seen above, not something new to the BJP.
Importantly, in the aftermath of the recent violence and ironically at a ‘peace march’, it was again this slogan that was raised at a so-called peace rally Kapil Mishra attended in Delhi. The hashtag that accompanied the gathering was #DelhiAgainstJehadiViolence. Narasinghanand Saraswati, the aforementioned priest, praised Kapil Mishra for standing up against ‘jehadis’ in Delhi.
Delhi Riots: Not An ‘Equal’ Show of Strength
In the aftermath of the violence, there has been a concerted effort by both the media and the BJP to portray the violence as one between equal sides. However, the fact remains that it was not an equal show of strength.
Not withstanding the admirable and indeed, heroic stories that have emerged of how local Hindus, Sikhs and Dalits have resisted the State’s onslaught and protected their Muslim neighbours, it appears that the events of last week were meant to terrorise a section of the population. The complicity of the Police was perhaps best illustrated by the callous way in which they made demands that young Muslims sing the national anthem while at the same time abusing and beating them. One of the young men subsequently died.
Communal Polarisation: Towards An Increasingly Shrill Rhetoric
As a number of states go to polls in the coming year, what is increasingly clear is that the BJP will up the ante as far as communal polarisation is concerned. The violence in Delhi was a signal to the AAP party, winners of the Delhi election, and indeed to all the Opposition that the BJP thinks they still control the street because they think the control the State’s institutions.
As their rhetoric becomes more shrill and the campaigning becomes more vicious and venomous, it will be more important than ever to remember that the violence was a means to an end, that is, political goals.
More importantly, the mask that the BJP has used to hide its totalitarian political ideology from the world must be ripped off, and their long and consistent genealogy of violence and hate must be exposed. Until this is done, the cycle of violence will simply continue.
(Ali Khan Mahmudabad is an Indian historian, political scientist, poet, writer, and assistant professor in the dual fields of history and political science at Ashoka University. He tweets @Mahmudabad. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)