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BJP’s fiercest Islamophobic campaign in Delhi state elections

28th Feb 2020
BJP’s fiercest Islamophobic campaign in Delhi state elections

Photo: Thousands of women in Idgah locality of Sadar Bazar in old Delhi stage indefinite sit-in 24/7 protest against new citizenship law on the model of Shaheen Bagh in Delhi, India on January 26. (Credit: Javed Sultan/Anadolu Agency)

Sajeda Haider

India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) launched its bitterest anti-Muslim campaign in the recently concluded elections for the Union Territory of Delhi.

The BJP lost the State Assembly election, despite putting to work all the central ministers, Members of Parliament, Home Minister and even the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, to divide the electorate along religious lines.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which has been in power in Delhi for the last five years, fought and won the election purely on the basis of its Government’s performance and stayed away from all sectarian issues.

India’s federal system has an elected Central Government which is currently run by Modi’s BJP and its allies, but it also has 28 states and nine union territories which all elect members to their legislative assemblies and whichever party wins the most Assembly seats forms the state government with a chief minister at its head.

While New Delhi is the capital of the country and is where the Central Government is headquartered, the city and its surrounding regions all form a union territory that elects its state government. Due to its unique position the Delhi State Government does not have all the powers that other elected state governments have with important portfolios like police, public order and land still under the control of the Central Government.

The Delhi state election held on February 8 amid massive protests in the city and throughout the country over the new citizenship law called the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which discriminates citizenship based on religion and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) which threatens to make India’s 200 million Muslims stateless.

Peaceful civil-society protests against the CAA and NRC have been going on since the middle of December last year just after the CAA was passed in Parliament, and they are continuing every day. More than 30 people have been killed – mostly Muslims – and hundreds have been injured in savage state repression of the protests.

The symbolic epicentre of the anti-CAA/NRC protests is an open air, 24-hour sit-in by women in the Shaheen Bagh area of Delhi. What started as a protest by 200 Muslim women and their young children blocking an arterial road on the night of December 15 has grown with thousands of women cutting across religious and class divides joining them.

These women have braved one of Delhi’s coldest winters for the last century, and have lived day and night on the road for more than two months demanding that the government withdraw the CAA and promise not to roll out the NRC. Inspired by the women of Shaheen Bagh, similar sit-in protests have sprouted all over the country again led by Muslim women, but with the participation from women of all religions.

The women of Shaheen Bagh became the centre of the Hindu Nationalist BJP’s electoral campaign for the Delhi State Assembly, inflicting abuse and religious slurs on the protesters. The BJP’s high-pitched polarizing campaign was vitriolic and provoked violence.

Central Home Minister, Amit Shah, former BJP president and the second most powerful man in the Government after Modi, told voters “press the electronic voting machine so hard in favour of the BJP that the current (electric shock) hits Shaheen Bagh” at multiple election rallies.

Anurag Thakur, junior Finance Minister in Modi’s Government, led his supporters at election meetings to chant “Shoot the traitors of India”, with a choice expletive added for the traitors which cannot go into print. Muslims, the women of Shaheen Bagh and all the protesters that supported their cause and were against the CAA/NRC were the traitors.

Thakur’s hate speech provoked three separate armed attacks at the Shaheen Bagh protest site, by self-confessed BJP supporters during the campaign in which one young protestor received a bullet injury as he tried to disarm the assailant. Thakur was banned from campaigning for three days by the Election Commission and issued a notice.

Another BJP MP, Parvesh Verma, gave a hate speech during an election rally calling the protestors at Shaheen Bagh rapists who would enter “homes and rape your wives and daughters.” The Election Commission banned him from campaigning for four days. The women were demonised by BJP leaders time and again as ‘paid’ protestors, sponsored by Modi opponents, anti-nationals and traitors.

The Delhi election saw an all-time low in the kind of rhetoric used by BJP leaders, who consistently indulged in Islamophobic hate speeches during elections to ‘other’ Muslims and consolidate Hindu votes behind them. However, it did not work with Delhi voters who are overwhelmingly re-electing AAP candidates in 62 out of a total 70 Assembly seats. Does this defeat mean that the BJP will stop using religious polarization for electoral gains? That remains to be seen, but it is highly unlikely as it the only weapon they have in their armour.

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