Crack down on hate speech
On Monday, Union minister of state for finance and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, Anurag Thakur, addressing a rally in the run-up to the Delhi assembly polls (and also the Union Budget, which should have preoccupied him), encouraged the crowd to chant a slogan. He said, “Desh ke gaddaron ko”, as the rally’s participants cheered on by saying, “goli maaron saalon ko”. A rough translation would be — shoot the nation’s traitors. The slogan has been heard in recent weeks in two different contexts — in processions taken out in support of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, and in front of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on the night a violent mob was attacking students and faculty members inside the university. On Tuesday, another BJP leader and Member of Parliament, Pravesh Verma, speaking of the ongoing anti-CAA protest in Shaheen Bagh, said: “Lakhs of people gather there [Shaheen Bagh]. People of Delhi will have to think and take a decision. They’ll enter your houses, rape your sisters and daughters, kill them. There’s time today, [Narendra] Modi ji & Amit Shah won’t come to save you tomorrow.”
The slogan deployed by Mr Thakur is deeply disturbing. First, it identifies an amorphous group as the “enemies” of the nation. This need not be only those who seek to challenge the integrity of the State, but could end up including all those who have chosen to dissent against the government. It could include political rivals, civil society critics, journalists seen as adversarial, and, the signal is unmistakable, the country’s minorities. This is in line with an attempt to paint all opposition to the BJP as “anti-national”. This is plainly undemocratic. Second, the slogan is an open incitement to violence. It has no patience for either peaceful political contestation or due process. Instead, it encourages vigilantism to get rid of all those seen as adversarial. For a minister to have chanted such a slogan is outright unconstitutional, and can be read as an attempt to incite outright murder. Equally unedifying (and perhaps unconstitutional) is an MP indulging in communal scaremongering and hate speech, for it is clear that he was referring to minorities who are at the forefront of the Shaheen Bagh protest.
Both leaders must be condemned in the strongest terms possible. The Election Commission has done well to note the remarks, and must immediately act against Messrs Thakur and Verma. And the BJP must act too, censuring not just the two leaders but all those within its fold who have used such rhetoric. It is incumbent on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose duty it is to uphold the rule of law, to make it clear that this kind of rhetoric has no place in a civilised democracy.