BJP’s Poisonous Poll Campaign

IN THE ONGOING ASSEMBLY ELECTION CAMPAIGN in various states, most notably the state of Uttar Pradesh, the BJP has once again unleashed a communal campaign aimed at consolidating Hindu voters against the imaginary Muslim enemy.

The BJP Manifesto for Uttar Pradesh promises to set up ‘anti-Romeo quads’ outside college campuses. While the BJP President Amit Shah claims these are aimed at curbing incidents of sexual harassment of women students, the BJP’s national co-convenor Sunil Bharala has made the communal and anti-women agenda of ‘anti-Romeo squads’ amply clear. Bharala declared that the squads are aimed at acting against Muslim men involved in “love jehad” – the BJP’s term for consensual relationships between Muslim men and Hindu women.

This is not the first time the BJP has invoked the bogey of “love jehad” in an election campaign. Bharala also recalled that danger of “love jehad” was the rallying cry for the communal violence of Muzaffarnagar in 2013 that had helped Modi win the 2014 polls. During the 2014 poll campaign, BJP President Amit Shah had invoked the Muzaffarnagar communal violence to ask the Jat community to vote BJP, saying “people are forced to riot” when “a community violates the honour of our daughters and sisters.” A recently leaked audio clip also revealed Amit Shah appealing to the Jat community not to desert the BJP in 2017, reminding them that their proximity to “BJP ideology” goes back several centuries, “farther back than riots.” Shah, in this appeal, reminded the Jats that Sanjeey Balyan (Modi Cabinet Minister accused in Muzaffarnagar riots) had “aged 7 years in the past 2 years helping to free riot-accused (Jat) boys.” In flagrant violation of EC rules against communal and casteist campaigns, the BJP is invoking imaginary rapes and real anti-Muslim riots to appeal to Jats and Hindus to vote for the BJP.

The BJP’s star campaigner in UP Yogi Adityanath has also repeatedly invoked the “dangers of love jehad” and campaigned for “anti-Romeo squads.” It may be remembered that the same Adityanath was among the BJP MPs who, in 2010, publicly declared their defiance against the party whip issued to vote for the Women’s Reservation Bill in Parliament. Adityanath’s attitude sums up the BJP’s ideology towards women: their posture of ‘protection’ only masks their hostility to women’s own autonomy and assertion.

Along with “love jehad”, Adityanath is leading BJP’s UP campaign with another mythical bogey: that of the “exodus of Hindus from Kairana.” Adityanath has compared Kairana in Western UP to Kashmir in 1990, claiming that Hindus are being forced to flee – in spite of the fact that Hindu residents of Kairana have declared such claims of a communal exodus to be bogus. Adityanath claims that Eastern UP is free from such eviction of Hindus and crimes against Hindu women, because of the countervailing presence of his own vigilante Hindutva brigade.

The BJP Manifesto and campaign in UP also promises to abolish the practice of triple talaq – declaration of divorce in one sitting – prevalent among Muslims. A whole gamut of personal laws – including but not confined to Muslim personal laws – require reform to ensure gender justice. By focusing on triple talaq alone, the BJP projects the Muslim community as uniquely opposed to gender justice and progress. The BJP Manifesto’s promises of ‘anti-Romeo squads’ (with the undertone of protecting Hindu women from Muslim men) and ‘abolition of triple talaq’ (to protect Muslim women from Muslim men) offers a platform for anti-Muslim consolidation in a progressive and pro-women guise.

Modi, addressing election rallies, taunted the former PM Manmohan Singh for his ability to ‘wear a raincoat while taking a shower’ – i.e maintain a clean image while being surrounded by scams. The metaphor applies much more aptly to Modi himself. Manmohan Singh could project an appearance for personal honesty in spite of his Government’s involvement in rampant scams and crony capitalism, but he and his Government did face the brunt of public anger for the same. Modi both as CM of Gujarat and as PM of the country has managed to evade scrutiny and accountability not only for cold-blooded encounter killings on his watch, but also for violations of civil liberties and witch-hunt of activists as well as for a series of scams and instances of crony capitalism benefiting corporations like Adani, the Ambani brothers, Raheja, Mallya and Lalit Modi.

Modi has mastered the art of wearing a raincoat not only in a scam-shower but in a bloodbath. His lieutenants are openly using communal mud and blood to tarnish the poll climate – even as Modi himself cloaks himself in the raincoat of ‘development.’ In fact, Modi, Amit Shah and the BJP hope that the communal hate-mongering will be able to deflect from widespread public resentment against the Note Ban diktat. The ongoing Assembly polls are an occasion to administer a firm rebuff to the communal propaganda of the BJP and assert the democratic concerns of the people.