BJP MP Parvesh Verma in hate row as pitch turns communal
Delhi’s election took a sharply divisive turn on Tuesday, with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member of Parliament from West Delhi, Parvesh Verma, alleging that protesters gathered at Shaheen Bagh — where a sit-in against the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act has continued for over a month — will “enter homes...rape...and kill” and indicated that this can only be prevented if the BJP is elected to power in the state which goes to polls on February 8.
Responding to a question from the news agency, ANI, Verma 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.”
Verma’s comments created a political stir, with both the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Congress criticising him for hate speech. The Election Commission (EC) , too, took note of Verma’s comments, as well as those of BJP leader and minister of state for finance, Anurag Thakur, who chanted and encouraged provocative slogans on Monday. The Delhi Chief Election Officer, on Tuesday, submitted reports to EC on the provocative language used by both the BJP leaders, and the suspected violation of the Model Code of Conduct, a senior official told news agency PTI. EC also issued a show cause notice to Thakur. The poll watchdog is likely to issue a show cause notice to Verma as well.
“Whereas, the Commission is, prima facie, of the view that by making the aforesaid statements which have the potential of disturbing communal harmony and aggravating the existing differences between social and religious communities, you have violated the provisions of the model code of conduct and Representatives of People Act, 1951,” read the order served to Thakur.
The Delhi Congress too approached EC and urged it to ban BJP leaders Thakur and Verma for making “provocative statements” with the “aim to incite communal violence”.
Verma’s comments appear in sequence with a string of controversial comment and, rivals allege, communally divisive rhetoric that the BJP has used over the past week in the Delhi election campaign. Analysts say that the BJP’s turn to divisive rhetoric is an attempt to consolidate Hindus in an election where it was widely perceived to start with a disadvantage because of the AAP’s contention of providing better governance. The BJP also does not have a CM face against the incumbent, Arvind Kejriwal, and is fighting the election in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. To be sure, the BJP is also trying to corner the AAP on governance issues, such as water, education and heath care — on which the Delhi government’s record is considered impressive by most civic watchers. The BJP, however, sees the protests against the CAA as its biggest opportunity. The party’s Delhi chief, Manoj Tiwari, said, “It is true. When Manish Sisodia says that we are with Shaheen Bagh, it is something which has helped us. This is coupled with the fact that their lies on their claims about promises in Delhi stand exposed.’’
What Tiwari said is reflected in the statements made by party leaders over the past week.
Verma himself, addressing a public meeting in Vikaspuri, said, “If the BJP forms government on February 11, not a single person will be found at [the protest site] Shaheen Bagh.” He also added, “If our government is formed [on February 11, just give me one month. I will ensure that all the mosques in my constituency are removed from government land within a month,” he said. Last year, Verma complained to Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal regarding “illegal mosques” which have come up on government land.
On Monday, Thakur, had, while addressing a campaign rally, created a controversy by chanting a provocative slogan and encouraging the crowd to do so. Thakur had said, “Desh ke gaddaron ko”, as the rally 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 processions taken out in support of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and outside the Jawaharlal Nehru University on the night of January 5, when a violent mob assaulted students and teachers inside the university premises.
Last week, BJP candidate Kapil Mishra, in a tweet, said that the election contest on February 8 was one between India and Pakistan. The EC had acted, instructing Mishra to delete the tweet and banning him from campaigning for 48 hours.
BJP’s senior leader and Union home minister, Amit Shah, who has been an active campaigner in the Delhi polls, has, in his speeches, focused on the protests in Shaheen Bagh — which are primarily led by Muslim women. Shah has said that a BJP government would deliver a Delhi which was “free of Shaheen Bagh”. In a rally, he also said, “When you press the button on February 8, do so with such anger that its current is felt at Shaheen Bagh.”
When contacted on Tuesday, Verma stood by his remarks. “The protest at Shaheen Bagh is no longer limited to CAA. Protesters there are raising slogans in support of jihad. Lakhs of commuters are facing inconvenience due to the ongoing protest,” he said. Verma alleged that the protesters have the tacit support of the Delhi CM, and added that the CM should visit the site, speak to the demonstrators and ensure the blockade is cleared.
The AAP’s Rajya Sabha member, Sanjay Singh, said the BJP had launched a “negative campaign” because it “has no real issue” to talk about. “They are engaging in communal politics only because they are scared of the fact that people are liking the AAP government’s work done in the past five years. In all surveys, eight of 10 people are saying they are with AAP. They are scared and have no other issue to talk about. All this is a move to divert people’s attention,” Singh said.
Senior Congress leader Ajay Maken said: “BJP’s star campaigners Parvesh Verma and Anurag Thakur have used objectionable language. Top BJP leaders, including home minister Amit Shah, are going around the lanes and bylanes of Delhi, making provocative statements to polarise the atmosphere and incite communal violence.”
Sanjay Kumar of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) said there was “no device to measure if a statement qualifies as hate speech or not”. “It will be at the discretion of election bodies to use their sensibilities,” he said. Neelanjan Sircar, assistant professor of political science at Ashoka University and a senior visiting fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, said, “There is a clear attempt by the BJP to polarise the electorate, especially as the BJP has no CM face to match Kejriwal. The AAP is also shaping its campaign on its service delivery record. Those who have benefited from AAP’s schemes are more likely to vote for them.”
This, Sircar suggests, has led to a change in BJP’s electoral calculation, which is primarily focused on turning the election on religious lines. “Delhi has a large upper middle class and wealthy population that rarely avails of public services. Right now, AAP has done a good job of reducing polarisation, but if the BJP succeeds in polarising the electorate, it will lead to a greater turnout among this segment of the population. This could give the BJP a fighting chance in Delhi.”