Whether by coincidence or by design, the post-Dussehra period has seen a surge in verbal and physical assaults on Muslims. In Karnataka’s Bidar, a slogan-shouting mob forced its way into a heritage madrasa on Dussehra itself and performed Hindu rituals.
The next day, former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA Sangeet Som urged a Rajput gathering in Meerut to arm themselves for protection because ”the population of a certain community is increasing’’ while that of Hindus is decreasing.
Two days later, BJP Lok Sabha MP Parvesh Verma called for a ”total boycott’’. "No one should buy anything from their’ shops and no one should employ them,’’ he declared at a rally in Delhi.
While some members of the Bidar mob were arrested, there is total silence from the BJP and the government on the two hate speeches. Verma is a sitting MP but party sources brushed away his remarks, saying he was speaking at The Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s (VHP) rally. “What else would he say?’’ was the explanation.
The irony is that, all this is happening after a much-publicised engagement between the Rashtriya Sevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat and some members of the Muslim community. In fact, Bhagwat stunned RSS and BJP circles by calling on a prominent cleric in his office in a mosque in the heart of the Capital and subsequently visiting a madrasa where he interacted with Muslim students.
BJP’s Ambiguity on Muslims Is Baffling
Media frenzy dubbed it an “outreach’’ and wondered whether it was a signal for restraint to hotheads and fringe elements. Since Bhagwat’s interactions came on the heels of an international backlash from the Islamic world to suspended BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s anti-Prophet comments in a TV debate, it was felt that the RSS chief was attempting an image-correction, not just for his organisation but on behalf of the BJP as well.
In fact, leading members of the Muslim elite who met Bhagwat were of the impression that the RSS chief was receptive to their concerns about hate speeches, the growing Hindu-Muslim divide and the myth propagated about Muslims soon outstripping Hindus because they have four wives and do not believe in birth control. ``He had a hearty laugh’’ was how former Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi put it in an article he wrote for The Indian Express.
Bhagwat spoke about these interactions in his annual Dussehra address. He said some members of the minority community had been meeting with the RSS and while this was not new, the Sangh would like to continue this engagement.
But the faithful keep their ears open for dog whistles. And Bhagwat did the needful by reiterating in the same breath, the demand for a population control law to correct what he called ”religion-based population imbalance.’’
Who Will Have the Last Laugh on the Muslim Matter?
He flagged the issue although it was said, he had a hearty laugh when it was discussed with the group of five Muslim intellectuals he had met.
A law to control population has been a long-stated policy position of the RSS. So far, the Modi government has resisted the pressure. Bhagwat flagged it nevertheless, almost as if to reassure his audience that the Sangh will not waver on fundamental beliefs even as it opens a dialogue with the Muslim community.
His message was not lost it seems, because Sangeet Som picked up the thread almost immediately. ”We have to be concerned about whose population is increasing. Our population is decreasing but the population of one community is increasing,’’ he declared at the Rajput rally he addressed in Meerut the next day as he urged the community to pick up arms to fight ”beheadings and terrorism’’.
It boils down to classic right wing doublespeak. Dialogue and hate speech can co-exist in the same space. Let the rabble do the hate-mongering while the top presents a benign face to the world.
The Hypocrisy Of Anti-Muslim Hate Speeches
Recent events have undone what Bhagwat set out to do when he agreed to open a channel of communication with the Muslim community. The lull following the Nupur Sharma episode may well be over.
It is significant that Chief Justice of India, UU Lalit recently expressed concern over the rise in hate speeches. In an observation while hearing a petition alleging that this was a tactic deployed for electoral gains, the Chief Justice acknowledged that such speeches are sullying the atmosphere and should be curbed.
Maybe the time has come for the top brass of the RSS and BJP to stop turning a blind eye to the venom spewed by its supporters, particularly itselected representatives and ponder on the possibility that there may be diminishing returns to hate speeches.
(Arati R Jerath is a Delhi-based senior journalist. She tweets @AratiJ. 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.)