Siddharth Varadarajan

Journalist | Writer | Analyst

Votes and vengeance





Siddharth Varadarajan

Indian Express
April 8, 2014

“Fear remains the chiefest of them,” the American critic, H.L. Mencken, famously wrote about politics under democracy nearly a century ago. “The demagogues, i.e., the professors of mob psychology, who flourish in democratic states are well aware of the fact, and make it the cornerstone of their exact and puissant science. Politics under democracy consists almost wholly of the discovery, chase and scotching of bugaboos. The statesman becomes, in the last analysis, a mere witch-hunter, a glorified smeller and snooper, eternally chanting ‘Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum!’”

In the famous nursery rhyme, the giant smells the blood of an Englishman and declares, “Be he live, or be he dead/ I’ll grind his bones to make my bread”. In the fables being pushed on to gullible voters in India these days, references abound to the blood and bones of cows, buffaloes and goats, to the vast fortunes allegedly being amassed by butchers. In Assam, Narendra Modi even deployed the poor rhinoceros. “These days there is a conspiracy to kill it,” he told a rally on April Fool’s Day. “I am making the allegation very seriously. People sitting in the government… to save Bangladeshis… they are doing this conspiracy to kill rhinos so that the area becomes empty and Bangladeshis can be settled there.” But all of this irresponsible rhetoric pales into insignificance when compared to the poisonous campaign Modi’s lieutenant, Amit Shah, has been waging in the riot-affected areas of western Uttar Pradesh on the eve of elections.

I began this analysis of Amit Shah, Narendra Modi and the place of “revenge” in politics with a quote from an American only because apologists for these two eminent Indian professors of mob psychology are drawing great solace from a clip of Barack Obama, in which the US president uses the “R” word.

“No, no, no, don’t boo. Vote,” Obama told a crowd in Ohio during the 2012 presidential election when they started booing at the mention of the name of his opponent, Mitt Romney. “Voting is the best revenge.” While Republicans rebuked Obama for running a negative campaign, BJP supporters argue that if a Nobel peace prize winner could speak of revenge via the ballot box, Shah did nothing wrong in urging Hindus to take “badla” by voting.

The question, of course, hinges on revenge by whom, against whom, and for what.

It is beyond dispute that both Hindus and Muslims were killed in the riots that took place in and around Muzaffarnagar last year. While the state administration never released a community-wise break down of the victims, the fact that a large number of Muslims were displaced and are unable to return home, and that several Muslim women have come forward with allegations of rape, makes it indisputable that Muslims form a disproportionately large part of those who were affected by the violence.

If Shah had addressed people from both the communities affected by last year’s incidents and asked them to vote for the BJP in order to take revenge against the UP government for failing to protect their lives, izzat and property, there would have been no controversy.

But Shah did nothing of the sort.

Instead, he presented himself in three meetings in Shamli and Raajhar as a representative of Hindus and made it clear he was concerned only about the insults and injustice that had supposedly been meted out to “us”. “We have been treated as second-class citizens,” Shah said at one of the meetings, his voice choking with emotion. “Justice has not been given to us.”

Here are some more quotes:

“This is not just another election. This is the time to avenge the insult meted out to our community. This election will be a reply to those who have been ill-treating our mothers and sisters.”

“A man can live without food or sleep. He can live when he’s thirsty and hungry. But when he’s insulted, he can’t live. We must seek revenge for the insult heaped on us.”

“People who have insulted our community, those who have killed our youth, can we feel honoured sitting with them?”

The BJP has made much of the fact that in one of the meetings, Shah tells his audience to take revenge by pressing a button and voting for the right party. But what remains uncontested is the ugly reality of its senior leader wading into a sensitive area that saw the killing of around 50 people, the rape of women and the displacement of thousands of families, and calling not for peace and justice, relief and rehabilitation for all, but for “our community” to avenge itself.

While the target against whom revenge is to be taken is political — Shah attacked the Samajwadi Party, which rules UP, the Congress, which rules New Delhi, and the Bahujan Samaj Party, whose Dalit voters the BJP is keen on attracting — it is clear that he is calling upon these parties to be punished for allegedly acting against Hindus and in support of Muslims. He threw in the 1990s-era Sangh Parivar epithet, Mullah Mulayam, against SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, to reinforce this point. But the reference to the insult of “our women” panders to the myth of Islamic aggression that the Sangh Parivar has been propagating in the region through its “love jihad” campaign and raises the possibility that revenge may again need to be taken against Muslims directly too.

For an American equivalent of such hate speech to exist, one would have to go back to the George Bush Sr versus Michael Dukakis presidential campaign of 1988. The Democrats accused Bush of subliminal racism for his advertisement attacking Dukakis for giving furloughs from prison to an inmate, Willie Horton, who then went on to kill a man and rape his girlfriend. Horton was an African-American and his victims were white, and Bush’s ads did sail pretty close to the wind, even though they never dwelt on the race of the victims. However, Bush never went as far as Shah has gone. He never explicitly addressed himself to whites or exhorted them to avenge Horton’s — or Dukakis’s — crimes, and if he did, he would have been roundly condemned.

Let us be clear: Shah has indulged in blatant communal politics. His behaviour raises the possibility that Modi’s talk of development is aimed at bringing first-time voters into the BJP’s fold, while hate remains a key message for mobilising its traditional bank. The irony is that in Muzaffarnagar, Shah resorted to some fear-mongering about Hindus being turned into second-class citizens in order to garner support. The core BJP voter has no such concern. “Modi’s appeal lies in the fact that only he can make Muslims second-class citizens,” the president of the Kanyakubj Brahmin Samaj told a national daily on March 12. “That is our primary aim right now.”

The writer is senior fellow at the Centre for Public Affairs and Critical Theory, New Delhi


Postscript 1: The Election Commission’s notice to Amit Shah provides additional examples of the BJP leader’s appalling speeches:

दंगा करने का किसी को शौक नहीं है, जब न्याय सभी पक्षों के साथ नहीं होता है, तथा एकतरफा कार्यवाही होती है,तो जनता सड़क पर उतरने के लिए मजबूर हो जाती है.

(No one enjoys rioting. But when all sides don’t get justice and there is one-sided action, then people are compelled to come on to the streets.)

बहन मायावती ने एक वर्ग विशेष का वोट पाने के लिए , जो आपकी प्रताड़ना करता है, आपकी बहन बेटियों की अवहेलना करता है, उनकी आबरू पर हाथ डालता है, उस वर्ग विशेष को १९ टिकट दे दिए.

(Mayawati, in order to get the votes of a particular community, one which harasses you, one which violates your sisters and daughters, one which tries to violate their dignity, she has given 19 tickets to that particular community).

Postscript 2: On April 16, 2014, the EC concluded after reviewing video recordings of his hate speeches that Amit Shah — and Azam Khan, a leader of the Samajwadi Party who was was also charged with making inflammatory speeches — had made “highly provocative speeches which have the impact of aggravating existing differences or create mutual hatred between different communities”. 

Postscript 3: Responding to an appeal from Amit Shah — in which he undertook on oath not to use “abusive or derogatory language in
the campaign and shall not make any utterances violative of the Model Code of Conduct” and that he shall ” in no manner give cause to be accused as having indulged in any act of commission or omission which has the effect of prejudicially affecting the public tranquility and law & order”‘ — the EC agreed to lift its ban on him campaigning and addressing public meetings.

4 comments on “Votes and vengeance

  1. khaleelulla khan
    April 9, 2014

    Amit shah is quitessential for modi. Its obvious Modi cant do in India what he did in Gujrat. Gujrat is his kingdom. He managed to get a ‘clean chit’ from all sides possible. But India is not Gujrat therefore he will experiment Gujat experience again via amit shah.

  2. Abdul Kalam Azad
    April 8, 2014

    The chemistry of Development and Hate mongering is very much clear now. Mr. Modi should unmask himself. Why this double standard? The sensitive first time voter will vote for AAP neither BJP despite their high level of PR exercise or Congress.

  3. rayalseemadiaries
    April 8, 2014

    The level of vitriol and violence being perpetrated during this election season really demand a concerted campaign for electoral reforms which will actively penalise candidates and their sidekicks from spewing venom during their campaigns. How does one go about starting this?

  4. Dwimidha
    April 8, 2014

    When sickuliars like you peddle fear by calling BJP as the demon, your opening quotes on fear fit in equally appropriately.
    If there was one hate speech that eclipsed all, it was ‘boti boti, speech that is completely missing in your message of peace, probably being closer to your ideology. Beni Prasad misses the special mention.
    Assam infiltration: Are you saying that there is no infiltration from Bangladesh? Let us move on to the other questions once you answer that. Leave the rhetoric now and focus on substance.
    Amit Shah: I answer your rhetoric question here directly. The question of revenge is by the affected victims against the perpetrators. For the crimes of SP committed to garner minority vote. Let us hear clearly what your objection is.
    While your narration slips to suppositions of who were affected, the revenge topic was raised to reverse the injustice of inequality based on religion. The narration should focus on who started it, who all committed crimes and who all were punished for their crimes. Also, where the lapse in justice crept in due to which the people had to respond to the injustice. When people have to take justice in their hand, it shows the failure of government.
    From that perspective, Amit Shah had to address the victims of Muzzafarnagar riots, who were denied justice, the building block of democracy, being equal in the eye of law. The refusal to identify the criminals in the name of religion, the root cause, is not only communal but the first hit against the democratic system, which does not seem to bother you much. It is introduction of nepotism and governance by religious bias, which seems to have escaped your analysis. The question is, is the omission an intentional cover up or sheer incompetence of a social commentator. Which one do you chose?
    From that perspective of injustice, is it wrong to rouse people who indeed were treated as second class citizen?
    Is it wrong to say that the ill-treatment of women and sisters will be judged on the basis of the community the criminal belongs to? Is it what you preach, beneath all the sugar coated lib talk? It is not time to avenge those who are bent on destroying democracy? Will allowing the perpetrators a free run not destroy democracy and lay the foundation for theocratic state?
    The comment on man living without food and sleep is factually correct. Do you have any opposing view? Having to beg may not lead a person to suicide but the loss of honor does.
    Then you go on to peddle your lies. Calling spade a spade here. What you termed earlier in the same article as an allegation has been elevated to a fact. Putting up with such injustices will not bring peace. Destroying these enemies of democracy alone will bring about peace through justice. Peace does not come by calling. It has to be worked at. Amit only asked to work for it in democratic way by pressing a button whereas you are thrusting your jaundiced, preconceived views in his words to see it in the comfortable perspective you have closed yourself into.
    The rest of the diatribe can also be shown to be hollow, but let me wait to see if you have an answer for my questions. I can answer all your liberal innuendos too without much effort. But to keep the topic focused to Amit Shah in Muzzafarnagar, let me not expand the debate.

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This entry was posted on April 8, 2014 by in Communal Violence, Indian Politics.



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