Blog: Lakhimpur’s Lesson – Hate Speech Finally a Responsibility for the BJP?



It might be easy to forget, amid the political white noise surrounding Lakhimpur’s violence, that the initial trigger was hate speech by a Union minister. The farmers crushed to death on that fateful Sunday afternoon were among those who gathered to protest against the remarks made by Ajay Mishra, Minister of State for the Interior, in which he warned that he “(them) would sort out in 2 minutes ”the agitators opposed to the agricultural laws, which are now almost a year old.

While Mr. Mishra’s inciting language is not new to Indian politics, the fact that it was uttered by a Minister in charge of Homeland Security, no less, and still remains in office indicates a radical change in the context of the BJP’s current hate speech exemption. And as the spiraling fallout from Lakhimpur demonstrates, this shift may no longer always work to the advantage of the ruling party.

Until not so long ago, hate speech, while politically profitable, had to be deployed judiciously, especially by the parties that had come to power. Not only is it a bad form for lawmakers to make hateful comments that violate the law, but the potential turmoil they can trigger can make the ruling regime appear incompetent. This precarious tightrope was sought to be managed by reducing the hatred of those appointed to high office and largely outsourcing divisive comments to marginal characters or outfits. Ruling parties in the past have tried to keep the slow drop of hateful rhetoric in the right dilution, enough to achieve the desired result (diverting public attention from bad governance, igniting the grassroots, etc.), but without tip the scales of hate so far that could undermine their claims to ensure stable governance.

Under the current BJP, however, this precarious balance has been upset. Hatred is no longer confined to the margins.

The slow drip is now a tidal wave. The galaxy of enemies making anti-Muslim or violence-threatening comments (or sometimes both) now systematically includes Union Ministers, Chief Ministers, Ministers of State, Members of Parliament, Members of Parliament, Governors and party leaders – the very men and women who are supposed to uphold the law.

According to estimates from an NDTV draft tracing hateful comments from high-ranking political figures, “VIP Hate” saw an explosive jump of 790% in the first five years of the Modi government compared to the previous five years of the Modi government. UPA.

And in Modi 2.0, it got worse: the average monthly hate speech by high-ranking figures increased by 80% compared to Modi 1.0. Of the total of 315 hateful comments we’ve counted over the past seven years, 264 or 84% of all comments come from senior BJP officials compared to 16% from high-ranking members of other political parties.

Due to the BJP’s other departure from the convention – its ‘strongman’ approach where mistakes are rarely conceded publicly – virtually none of the Saffron Party’s ‘VIP haters’ suffered any legal consequences. or others, even if their words had disastrous repercussions for others, Lakhimpur being the last example.

This volcano of high-level unpunished fanaticism has so far done little to harm the political outlook of the BJP; in fact, one could argue that the party’s ever-growing electoral graph parallels its disproportionate contribution to the wave of hatred in India (despite the obvious contradiction of members of a government claiming to be harsh with public order regularly breaking the law themselves).

The most glaring example of this was the election of the State of Delhi in 2020, during which the Minister of the Interior Amit Shah, in charge of the internal security of India, and also the authority responsible for the Delhi Police Force, led – and participated – in one of the most community-based events. campaigns loaded by the BJP in recent memory. Leader after leader, apparently at Mr. Shah’s request, targeted the multiple CAA / NRC protest sit-ins that had sprung up across town. A leader who now serves as Union Minister chanted “Desh ke Gadaron ko Goli Maro Salon Ko (shoot traitors) “from the stage. A BJP MP warned that Shaheen Bagh protesters would rape and kill the sisters of Delhi citizens. Mr. Shah himself called on voters to press the button on the BJP with such anger that he “should send a current to Shaheen Bagh”, dislodging the protesters who had gathered there.

Although this hate campaign did not result in electoral success – Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi party won the capital resoundingly – the BJP ended up with a higher than expected vote share of 39%, which several analysts have attributed to a “bump of hate”.

The Delhi campaign and its results, however, also provided a glimpse of how unchecked and unpunished hate speech can backfire on the ruling regime. When the capital, unsurprisingly, erupted into community violence two weeks after the virulent campaign ended, the Home Secretary was nowhere to be found. Instead, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, charged with overseeing India’s broader strategic security concerns, had to play a sort of mohalla peacemaker, walking through the alleys of northeast Delhi to calm the spirits between Hindus and Muslims.

This is a testament to the BJP’s grip on the public conversation that the backlash over Mr. Shah’s temporary disappearance amid the worst riots the nation’s capital has seen in decades did not last long, nor did it last. has significantly shaken his image as “Mr. Law and Order”.

But with Lakhimpur, the BJP is fighting a more stubborn political fire kindled by its latest VIP Hater. (It didn’t help that in neighboring Haryana, BJP Chief Minister ML Khattar, another constitutional leader, added his own ball of oil to the flames, urging a host of listeners to take action. “tit for tat” against protesting farmers). Varun Gandhi, the BJP MP for Pilibhit of UP, neighbor of Lakhimpur, publicly criticized the management of the imbroglio by his party. (Mr Gandhi himself was filmed giving outspoken speeches ahead of the 2014 election in which he threatened violent reprisals against Muslims.) Other party members have chosen to voice their concern in ways anonymous – an anonymous BJP official reportedly said Indian express that due to the mismanagement of Lakhimpur, ‘raita phail gaya hai (the disorder has spread) ‘.

Could that then be a lesson for the BJP, that when hate comes out of the bottle it becomes impossible to guarantee that it will only be directed against politically convenient targets at politically convenient times? It seems highly unlikely that Minister Mishra (or Chief Minister Khattar) would have risked uttering threats of violence against a crucial constituency like farmers in election time without the extraordinary climate of impunity for hatred allowed by their party superiors. .

The first indications suggest the contrary. Two days after the violence, in a blissful indifference to multiple conflicts of interest, Mr. Mishra was able to present his defense not before a local police. thana but in North Block, to his boss, Home Secretary Shah. Indeed, two senior officials responsible for maintaining public order and belonging to the same political party, debated how to contain the fallout from the involvement of one of them in a cycle of hate speech and cold-blooded murder. If anyone was penalized by the party, it was Varun Gandhi who, along with his mother, was expelled from the national executive of the BJP.

There are indications that the BJP may still act against Mr. Mishra; even if it did, it would be naïve to assume a radical change in the party’s approach to hate speech. He has too many first-hand hate politics dividends to cut dramatically. But even the rare concession of letting down a hate-spitting Union minister, if that happens, suggests that Lakhimpur could be the first real test of the political limits of the BJP’s new normal, of cutting down the consequences of a high-level incitement to hatred. government figures.

(Sreenivasan Jain is Group Editor, NDTV)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV assumes no responsibility in this regard.


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