In this election, the big talk and rhetoric has been about development. Behind this benign mask, however, another task has been carried out surreptitiously. An underwater channel has sprung forth in the last month, and polarisation and communalism have reared their heads. This phenomenon is not limited to the usual saffron suspect, but to others as well.
Let me begin with the others. Shazia Ilmi of AAP was seen exhorting clerics that Muslims need to be communal. This party, which had so far steered clear of such machinations, is fast getting into the thick of it. Congress’ Imran Masood found himself in trouble when a video of him telling people that the BJP PM candidate will be hacked to pieces went viral. Congress distanced itself saying the video was of December while he joined the party in March. Azam Khan of SP said Kargil was reclaimed by the efforts of Muslims, not Hindus.
Such speeches from the saffron party are not new. They have treated Election Commission as an old schoolmaster who keeps ranting while kids continue with their pranks. Giriraj Mishra said those against Modi should go to Pakistan. Amit Shah called on the Jats of western UP to seek “revenge”. In a direct inversion of the development plank, he said while people could live without food and water, they could not live with being insulted.
All speeches mentioned above were made in western UP. Television interviews of voters of this region also show extreme polarisation that has been engineered in this election. Traditional voters of INLD have begun siding with others for “revenge”. It is apparent that the Muzaffarnagar riots were engineered, and it may have been a multi-party venture. Everyone had some harvest to reap out of seeds of hatred that were sowed.
Praveen Togadia went a step further and led a demonstration against a Muslim who had bought a house in a Hindu locality in Bhavnagar, Gujarat. The occupant of the house was apparently given a 48-hour ultimatum to vacate the premises. Nothing seems to have happened to Togadia since then; one has not even heard of an FIR against him. Narendra Modi himself made a sly entry by declaring that he is a proud Hindu, adding the disclaimer that he is an Indian first. Modi defended his not wearing a skullcap by saying he respects everyone’s tradition, and wearing a skullcap is not a part of his tradition. Wearing any other headgear is alright for his tradition, it seems. Modi decided that the talk of development is not enough; he must send out clear hints that he is essentially from a Hindu party.
What is interesting is that the Gujarat model and development are no longer being talked about by its authors, especially in UP, which will swing the election. Suddenly, people are talking about ‘revenge’ and the need to protect one’s community. This Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde phenomenon does not bode well for the health of the nation.
Modi has gone vitriolic in the last leg of his campaign. In a rally at Faizabad, there was a huge poster of Lord Rama in his backdrop. EC is probing the matter. He went on to say nasty things about late Rajiv Gandhi. When Priyanka Vadra retorted that he is indulging in “neech rajneeti” (petty politics), Modi turned the phrase around and accused Priyanka of calling him a person of “neech jaati” (lower caste). It is not just politics of polarisation, but of lies as well.
One kind of polarisation breeds another. This is an old device that was rejected by the electorate—BJP, for example, lost all presence in UP in the last decade. Now, there’s a desperate attempt to bring back old politics repackaged as “development”. Today the voter is much smarter than before and in time, all such divisive elements will be booted out. To answer Shah, food and water are much more important than imaginary “revenge” which is actually his revenge that he hopes to fire from the shoulders of a jaded and tired populace.
Follow her on Twitter @ArchanaDalmia
Dalmia is chairperson of Grievance Cell, All India Congress Committee