Image: The Hindu
The week end, just passed was witness to a whirlwind of meetings by the top brass of the ruling party, not least its mascot, the prime minister Modi making a strong bid for power in the north eastern state of Assam.
On Friday last, March 25, 2016, the union finance minister, Arun Jaitley flanked by BJP President Amit Shah set the stage for the week end that was to follow. “Our priority is the illegal infiltration and detection and deportation of these infiltrators,” he said while adding that the Vision Document, which is a roadmap for progress on all sectors, has also assured that a law would be enacted to deal sternly with industries, business establishments, small and medium enterprises or any other agencies employing infiltrators. This kind od statement, in a party's vision document rises serious questions about policies that may be set into motion on employees and labourers of a particular denmination.
This campaign is ominous, just as it was when, in the April of 2014, the then prime minister in waiting, Narendra Modi said at a rally in Srirampur, “"BJP's position is very clear, votebank politics has destroyed the country... Those who are Bangladeshi infiltrators, will have to go back," welcoming those with Hindu blood from across the border.
This campaign pitch by Modi and followed by others had drawn rich dividends for the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls of May 2014. The party’s vote share had gone up from 11.47 per cent in the 2011 state assembly elections in Assam to 36.5 per cent in May 2014. Since that date, 22 months later, the election fortunes of the BJP have slumped if Delhi (February 2015) and Bihar (November 2015) are anything to go by. With little else to show on its score card however, the RSS-driven BJP appears, in Assam at least, of sticking close to its winning strategy: hate speech and communal polarisation. Assamese or ‘illegal migrant’? What ‘identity’ of people means to different parties ahead of polls.
Modi’s campaign at the end of April of 2014 found an echo in the 2016 plank of the party this time making a bid for power in Assam. Jaitley used a press conference to releasing his party’s “Vision” for Assam to refer repeatedly to “infiltrators”, a term that has come to mean Bengali-speaking Muslims settled in the state. That document promises ‘the people’ ‘that a law will be enacted to “deal sternly” with industries, businesses, Small and Medium Enterprises or any other agencies employing infiltrators’.
Meanwhile, Assam’s leading newspaper today, The Sentinel reported the day after Jaitley’s Guwahati sojourn that the Tribal Sangha has announced its intention of burn copies of BJP's Assam vision document.
The reason, the Sangha feels, is the Document not laying the required stress on the development of the indigenous Scheduled Tribes other than according ST status to the six ethnic groups and a grant of Rs 1,000 crore for the BTC. The AATS also called all tribes of Assam to boycott of the BJP in the 2016 Assembly elections in the State for its disrespect to the indigenous tribes of the State.The decision was taken not just to boycott the BJP in the Assembly election but also burn copies of the Assam Vision Document of the party. The speakers at a meeting of the Sangha on March 26 reported by The Sentinel said that the head ‘tribal development’ in the Assam Vision Document of the BJP has only two aspects – according ST status to the six ethnic groups of the States and Rs 1,000-crore Central assistance for the BTC. “This is nothing but an utter disrespect to the indigenous tribes of the State. This vision document has also laid bare the anti-tribal policy of the BJP,” the AATS leaders said, and added: “So much so that the BJP has been out to deprive the State STs of their rights given by the Constitution of India.”
The meeting clearly spelt out that the AATS was not against according ST status to the six ethnic groups in the State. “The NDA Government at the Centre has resolved to accord ST status to Assam’s six ethnic groups that have been declared other backward classes (OBCs). However, the Centre is silent on the steps to be taken to solve the problems to be faced by the existing STs in the State in the aftermath of inclusion of six more communities in the State as STs. What is baffling is that the head ‘tribal development’ in the vision document speaks of developing communities that have not been declared STs now after giving them ST status. How come the Centre feel that Rs 1,000 Central assistance to the BTC will ensure development of all tribes in Assam? An Assam vision document bereft of issues like preservation of tribal blocks and belts, providing land to tribal farmers through the Forest Rights Act, scholarship for ST students, socio-cultural and economic development of the tribal people of the State is an utter disrespect to the tribals of the State,” various speakers at the meeting said.
Right now, on the eve of polls to five states, the relevant question is whether hate speech and communal polarization is going to work as it has proven for the RSS-driven BJP before.A sample survey by Indiaspends reveals how hate speech crimes have yielded heavy benefits to the ruling BJP during the parliamentary elections of 2014. The survey sums up that candidates with hate-speech cases against them have a 30% greater chance of winning elections, as this survey by Indiaspends shows. This analysis has been undertaken from the self-disclosed crime records of candidates who have contested various elections nationwide over the last 12 years. To put these data in perspective, candidates with no criminal cases boost their victory chances to only 10%, half that of candidates with criminal cases of any kind. Of the 70 candidates surveyed, unsurprisingly, the RSS-driven Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tops the list with 28 candidates! So, being guilty of hate-speech with a case registered provides a candidate with a better chance of victory if the last Lok Sabha election samples are anything to go by. At least until May 2014.
Since however several elections have come and gone. Year 2015, barely six months after Modi and BJP’s sweeping victory, signaled a clear mood shift. Despite every effort by the BJP’s top brass to capitalise on the Modi mascot (even US President, Barrack Obama’s visit), the Aam Aadmi Party broom swept aside Modi an BJP’s any dream of victory.
Bihar in early November 2015 capped this trend. Despite all out efforts to raise communal temperatures in the state, despite humungous (and un-accounted) expenditures – as many as 40 helicopters a day air dropped central ministers for campaigning in the state every day – the Mahagathbandhan of the Nitish-Laloo kind kept hatred and polarisation at bay.
In April 2014, the writer had written a commentary on Modi’s campaign in the north eastern part of India that was overtly communal. This is relevant today as Assam once more gears up to face an overtly communal campaign led by none less than the leading lights of the government at the Centre. What is greater relevance is the real and perceived inaction of the Tarun Gogoi-led state government to act resolutely against perpetrators of hate speech in Assam.
Article in April-May 2014
Finally the cat is out of the bag and it is left to be seen whether it will become, as the BJP and its mascot, a rather shrill PM-in-waiting wants it, a cat among the pigeons. Or will it in fact become the proverbial albatross with which the BJP will have to bow it’s rather thick-skinned neck.
Page 41 of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s manifesto speaks of the contentious issues that the RSS first raised through its rabid wing, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in the mid 1980s, and not just enflamed this preciounation, but sowed the seeds of a bitter poison that has still not been bled from its veins. In the name of tushtikaran (appeasement) of the minorities it justified the basest of acts perpetrated through violence against India’s largest minority, the Muslims.
Rewarded for this bloodletting through victories at the ballot box (remember the proverbial increase in seats up to the magical figure of 182) it then set a bout it’s agenda launched cynically when the man at the head of the rath, India’s former deputy prime minister and home minister LK Advani had set in motion post Emergency in the Janata government in 1977, fill key positions in the bureaucracy, police, educational institutions and even the judiciary with men and women who owe allegiance not to Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Constitution but to an ideology that believes in the supremacy of one kind of Indian over another.
The fact that India’s lofty institutions of governance caved in to this ideology meant and means that an Advani guilty of a criminal act of witnessing the demolition of a place of religious belief (and conspiring towards the same, remember rallies he held at Mathura and Kashi before December 6, 1992) could rise to occupy the third most important position in the Indian executive.
This overt, even brazen politics of hatred and violence for which the parliamentary wing of the RSS has never been held accountable, the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) now covets for itself not just a central government but a man at the helm who has gone several steps further in the crime notching charts then the offences committed in full public eye on December 6, 1992.
Even if one sets aside the crimes committed in 2002 and since within Gujarat, to be part of a well heeled conspiracy to allow the Godhra tragedy for the vengeful reprisal killings in 19 districts at 300 locations within the state—crimes that include the willful subversion of justice and the destruction of documents—lets zero in on election season (2014) and list the acts of hate speech committed in the here and now.
After voting on April 30, 2014 in Gujarat, the Man who would be PM appeared to clearly violate the Representation of People’s Act by a crude campaigning for his party and himself as he emerges from the booth at Ahmedabad. The Election Commission reacted but the agency that investigates the offence is the selfsame one and the official the very same, Himanshu Shukla who was given the task by RK Raghavan of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of “giving a clean chit to Modi in the Zakia Jafri case”!
This campaign pitch by Modi and followed by others had drawn rich dividends for the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls of May 2014. The party’s vote share had gone up from 11.47 per cent in the 2011 state assembly elections in Assam to 36.5 per cent in May 2014. Since that date, 22 months later, the election fortunes of the BJP have slumped if Delhi (February 2015) and Bihar (November 2015) are anything to go by. With little else to show on its score card however, the RSS-driven BJP appears, in Assam at least, of sticking close to its winning strategy: hate speech and communal polarisation.
Rewind now to Assam and the tragic violence in Kokrajhar that took place during electioneering in the week following Modi’s rally in April 2014. The prime responsibility for the breakdown of the rule of law must lie with the Congress Tarun Gogoi government but the filthy speeches, hate filled and targeted of the Man who would be PM, since February 2014, created the ripe hate filled climate for the Bodos to strike and must in claw ensure his criminal prosecution. Immediately after the filthy speech of the man made at a rally on April 1, 2014 what happened?
‘On April 1, immediately after Narendra Modi’s rally in Biswanath Chariali, a local BJP leader, Bhavdev Goswami, told a TV channel that the BJP had the support of the NDFB [National Democratic Front of Bodoland] rebels. At Sri Rampur on the Assam-West Bengal border, Modi said he would drive out all Bangladeshis after May 16.’
[The relevance of May 16 is that the BJP expects to win the marathon election held now, which ends on May 12, whose results will be declared on May 16, 2014.].
Interestingly, the NDFB is an armed separatist outfit which seeks to obtain a sovereign Bodoland for the Bodo people in Assam, India. It is designated as a terrorist organisation by the government of India. According to the Assam police, the NDFB’s Sangbijit group is behind the killings in the massacre of Muslims since May 1, though the group has denied its role in a press statement.
The published reports from Assam show that on April 1, Bhavdev Goswami claimed in front of a television camera that he along with some other party workers had a meeting with members of two NDFB factions — Sangbijit and Ranjan Daimary — at Bhalukpung and they had pledged support to the BJP for the Lok Sabha polls. The BJP candidate from Tezpur constituency, RP Sarma, also reportedly told the TV channel that he was aware of the meeting. The BJP’s Sonitpur West district president Ritubaran Sarma later denied that any such meeting took place.
These video casettes of these channels can clearly provide independent and exemplary proof of the claims of the Assam police. Besides the fact that the NDFB was opposing the Congress was clear.
On March 27, 2014 when Rahul Gandhi held a rally at the same rally where Modi spewed poison that led to bloodshed, the NDFB had declared a bandh. Certain sources in government have also alleged that the extremist elements in Bodoland People’s Front, an alliance partner of Tarun Gogoi-led state government, were also involved in the recent violence in Bodoland Autonomous Territorial Districts. The BPF is also in power in the BTAD. It is also alleged that one such extremist leader of the BPF, Pramila Rani made a provocative and incendiary comment on April 30 threatening local Muslims since they did not vote for her candidate from the Kokrajhar seat Chandan Brahma. Chandan Brahma is currently transport minister in the Gogoi cabinet.
Will the Gogoi Government act against this extremist element is also a key question? Muslims are a major constituent of this group that fielded Naba Kumar alias Hira Sarania, a former United Liberation Front of Asom rebel, as an independent candidate in Kokrajhar. Non-Bodos including other tribes have never won this seat despite constituting two-thirds of the population.
The leadership of the BPF has been alleged to have been responsible for instigating cadres to attack non-Bodo villagers, particularly Muslims, because they realized it could lose the Kokrajhar seat. Hundreds of Muslims and other minority groups have fled their villages to safer locations fearing a rerun of the 2012 communal clashes that took the lives of 108 people. According to India Today, indefinite curfew has been clamped in Baska and Kokrajhar districts. The union home ministry has sent 10 companies of central paramilitary forces to Kokrajhar and Baksa.
The Assam government cannot and must not be allowed to escape responsibility for the violence. Key to the accountability that citizens must demand is criminal prosecution of not just those who made incendiary speeches who hail from the national stage and those who belong to possibly the NDFB but if proven even those in alliance with the government in power. Will the Assam government that lays claim to equality and non discrimination (secularism as its creed) have the moral and political courage to take the bull by its horns? We as concientious citizens must ensure that it does so.
Narendra Modi’s other communal speeches have included what he said in Faizabad and elsewhere especially after the phases to ‘urban, cosmopolitan India’ were concluded and the phases to the north east and Uttar Pradesh remained. (EC seeks report on Modi’s Faizabad rally, Modi Invokes Lord Ram to woo voters in Faizabad )
Assamese Muslims now live in fear (April-May 2014). Reuters reported that Anwar Islam, a Muslim who had come to buy food in Barama, a town about 30 kilometres from the villages in the Baksa district where the violence erupted on Thursday and Friday, was heard saying, ‘We are scared to live in our village, unless security is provided by the government.’ He said men armed with rifles had come to his village, Masalpur, on bicycles and had then fired indiscriminately and set huts on fire. A relevant view can be read here
As I write this article on a Sunday, 32 people have died, all Muslims, as a result of the latest pogrom in the BATD of the state of Assam. The district administration in the adjoining Dhubri district has opened up two relief camps. The death toll is expected to go up with many reported missing.
Targeted massacre of minorities has no place in our time, especially in a state that touts itself as a model of democracy and secularism. Such crimes only strengthen the dark forces on all sides, and often have ramifications that go beyond the sources of the trouble.
The Indian government owes it to its people to rein upon such evil fascist forces that have managed to thrive unscathed, often fattened by the local government that is supposed to protect the victims. The Indian Election commission should also look into the matter of hate speech delivered by chauvinist politicians whether such speeches had violated rules during the election time. Simply sending a notice and not pursuing prosecutions under the Representation of People’s Act is in fact allowing the erosion of basic and fundamental values of the Constitution by the forces of majoritarian fascism.
There is little doubt that BJP leaders’ xenophobic speeches have catalysed targeted pogrom in Assam. Justice demands that they be held accountable for their criminal role. Otherwise, all those bloated claims about Indian secularism are mere hogwash and nothing else. The government in power must also be held to account: will it prosecute those who attempted to deny those from Kokrajhar who form a majority of the voters to vote for a candidate of their choice?
If the state does not initiate prosecutions, we as citizens must do so…like we did in Gujarat post 2002. Towards that end…..
BJP Vision Document 2014
(A version of this column appeared in the Rashtriya Sahara on May 9, 2014 titled Secularism on Trial)