Even PM Modi can’t stop the hate brigade
The fringe has blatantly ignored PM Modi’s 2016 message against cow vigilantism. The mob has tasted blood for far too long. And by now they know that political parties have electoral compulsions for not cracking the whip.
Back in March 2017, right after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) decimated the Opposition and clinched Uttar Pradesh with a three-fourth majority, I was inside the state unit’s IT cell headquarters in Lucknow. A big part of the credit for the BJP’s victory in UP went to the massive war waged by the IT cell through social media and WhatsApp groups. It was also barely a couple of weeks after Delhi University student Gurmehar Kaur had received a flurry of rape threats from the right-wing troll army on social media.
Speaking to me, a senior member of the BJP IT Cell accepted the dangers of reaping political dividends from its online army running into the lakhs. About the Gurmehar episode, he told me that while many of these offenders might be following the BJP, they are beyond the IT Cell’s control. “No one can control these users,” he said. Rightly so.
You may gain social, political or electoral advantages from a mob, but you cannot control it. It becomes unbridled. Especially, when that mob comes together through a common feeling of hate, and for spewing hate.
The latest example for this is the kind of response Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal for brotherhood in times of COVID-19 has got.
On April 19, Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued statements on Twitter reminding the citizens that Corona doesn’t see race or religion before striking. He gave a lesson on unity and brotherhood. Discounting the fact that the message was tweeted out from the PMO’s twitter handle and not from PM Modi’s personal account and that the message was in English, it was at least an attempt to stop the rampant communal profiling amidst COVID-19.
PM Modi’s tweet came right after the Human Rights Commission, set up by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) nations, appealed to India to act against “the tide of Islamophobia'' and protect the rights of Indian Muslims. The Gulf nations have been mounting pressure on the Indian government to act against hate speech targeting the Muslims.
Scholars from the Middle East urged the government to take action against those passing hate comments on social media. In the middle of the storm was a series of old tweets by BJP parliamentarian Tejasvi Surya. And then came the Twitter top trend against Bollywood singer Sonu Nigam.
UAE Princess and businesswoman, Hend Al Qassimi has been reminding Indians –those in UAE and indulging in Islamophobic comments –of the state laws against hate speech. The demand to deport the culprits back to India has been gaining pace.
The Modi government and leaders such as the late Sushma Swaraj had worked hard to strengthen the strategic diplomatic ties with the Middle East. And now, the Hindutva troll army had unwittingly put those ties at risk.
PM Modi’s message for brotherhood was followed by the Indian envoy in UAE, Pavan Kapoor’s appeal to the diaspora to show restraint. But did the Hindutva hate brigade pay attention to the Prime Minister’s appeal? The answer would probably be –no. Even the replies to the PMO tweet include discriminatory messages against Muslims.
Moreover, in retaliation against Twitter hashtags against Islamophobia in India, the right-wing trolls ensured counter hashtags such as #Hinduphobia_in_Arab feature in the top trends on Twitter.
It seemed as if, even if Prime Minister Modi wanted to, he wouldn’t be able to stop the Hindutva hate brigade spewing venom on social media.
In August 2016, two years after coming to power, PM Modi had expressed his anger against the self-styled cow vigilantes during a town-hall event in Delhi. He had said that 70-80% of gau rakshaks are people involved in anti-social activities and had asked the states to act against them.
Electoral compulsions force the BJP leaders to toe the line of these fringe groups, time in and out. In July 2018 in Jharkhand, Jayant Sinha had garlanded eight convicts of the Ramgarh lynching case. Remember, back then, he was also a minister of state in the Modi government. A week later, another BJP MP, Nishikant Dubey, had pledged to bear the legal cost of those accused of the Godda lynching.
By offering electoral prospects and ensuring the victory of fringe leaders and terror accused like Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, the BJP has only legitimised the politics of hate.
During the Karnataka assembly polls in 2018, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leader Prabhakar Bhat Kalladka campaigned for the BJP in the Dakshina Kannada. Why is that important? Because Kalladka is the leader from whom fringe groups such as Bajrang Dal and Hindu Jagran Vedike (HJV) draw their power in coastal Karnataka.
During the 2020 Delhi assembly election, Union Home Minister Amit Shah campaigned against the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protesters, while other BJP leaders such as Anurag Thakur and Parvesh Verma went on giving hate speeches. In a high-voltage communal campaign, a section of BJP leaders instigated anger against the anti-CAA protests.
After the elections concluded, BJP leader Kapil Mishra held a meeting at North East Delhi's Maujpur Chowk and gave an ultimatium to the Delhi Police to clear the anti-CAA sit-in protest. Soon after this meeting on February 23, the clashes between the pro-CAA mob and anti-CAA protesters began which later took the shape of full-blown communal riots. Despite the allegations against Mishra, the Delhi Police refused to file an FIR against him, informing the High Court that the atmosphere was not "conducive" to do so. The riots claimed atleast 53 lives.
Two months down the line, instead of going after Kapil Mishra, the police have chosen to act against Umar Khalid. The Delhi Police has wielded the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) against Umar Khalid. Importantly, their refusal to act against Mishra - a habitual social media hate peddler - sends out the message that he enjoys a certain amount of impunity.
The government’s failure to crack down on those spewing hate has emboldened them. The mob has been tasting success For far too long.
The recent hate campaign against the minority community in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak is yet another reminder of the deep-rooted communal discrimination growing in our neighbourhoods. The online army of the Hindutva hate brigade has played a large role in the dissemination of misinformation against Muslims. As a result, Muslim street vendors are being discriminated and targeted in the non-Muslim neighbourhoods of several states.
A section of society is getting swayed by the propaganda being peddled against the minorities in the wake of the Tablighi Jamaat COVID-19 episode. And even hospitals are no exception.
A cancer private hospital in Western UP’s Meerut had put out an advertisement in newspapers saying that it would not admit Muslim patients until they or their caretakers produce negative results for COVID-19 tests. The UP police has initiated legal action against the hospital.
The police in states such as Maharashtra and Jharkhand are actively tracking hate speech and communal content being pushed on social media platforms – resulting in an increase in such cases being filed and subsequent arrests.
Such measures might stop the increase of hate propaganda in the respective states but the attempt to control the Hindu hate brigade, or for that matter, the hate brigade from any fringe element might prove futile. Political leaders, including PM Modi, should realise that it does little good to close the door after the horses have bolted. Now the mobs have tasted blood and know that political parties have electoral compulsions not to act seriously against them.