“We will ensure the implementation of NRC in the entire country. We will remove every single infiltrator from the country, except Budha, Hindus and Sikhs.”
This is what Amit Shah, the second-most powerful man in the country, said on Thursday, 11 April, while addressing a rally in West Bengal.
In media-speak, he was doing polarisation. Or perhaps he was raising the Hindutva pitch. Or just being controversial. Just like when R Ashwin mankaded Jos Buttler.
Indian media has evolved an elaborate set of safe words when it is forced to do the unpleasant task of reporting on similar politics of hatred from BJP leaders.
Some are afraid of showing a mirror to the ruling party, some enjoy the comforts of its lap, while for others it is a force of habit. Whatever be the case, this pathological inability to call a spade a spade has played more than a small part in normalising such hatred in our body-politic.
Say No to ‘Polarisation’
Journalism is often called literature in a hurry. And in a hurry, you always order the usual. At the end of the day, journalism loves its cliches.
And so it is that when a firebrand leader says something politically incorrect, or maybe even shocking, it is second nature to allude to communal polarisation.
Someone familiar with a bit of chemistry will know that when a substance is polarised, an equal number of opposite charges is created at each end. It is a sterile and unsuitable term to describe continuous attacks on increasingly insecure minorities by majoritarian politicians who hold immense power to shape their destinies.
What Will Bhagat Singh Say?
While polarisation appears to be Indian media’s unique contribution to the euphemism industry, firebrand is a western import. Far-right white nationalists and racists are routinely referred to as firebrands by mainstream media in the West.
A Google search for “Hindutva firebrand” throws up the names of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, former chief of VHP Praveen Togadia and BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj in the first few results. Togadia has 19 cases of hate speeches against him, Sakshi Maharaj has a fair few as well. That brings us to Adityanath, who in December 2017 withdrew 20,000 cases against himself, including for alleged hate speech during the Gorakhpur riots of 2007.
To nobody’s surprise, being made the class monitor has not made him any less naughty. The latest Muslim-baiting comment came on Tuesday, 10 April, in Meerut.
“If the Congress, the SP and the BSP have faith in Ali, then we too, have faith in Bajrang Bali.”
So who is a firebrand? Bhagat Singh was certainly one and probably the most famous Indian to qualify for the tag. So the next time you see it used as a euphemism for those with an alleged penchant for hate speech, think of what the revolutionary would have said.
Dog Whistle For Dummies
The dog whistle has been the BJP’s trusted accessory for a long time now. It has allowed the party to attack minorities in a not-so-subtle-fashion to inflame, stoke and excite its base, while offering a vision of development for those not enticed by such crudities.
In the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha election, where he was neatly packaged as the “vikas purush”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred to the “pink revolution” of the Congress government.
On 2 April that year, at a rally in Nawada in Bihar, Modi said:
“We have heard of the Green Revolution, we’ve heard of the White Revolution but today’s Delhi sarkar wants neither; they’ve taken up cudgels for a Pink Revolution. Do you know what that is?…When you slaughter an animal, then the colour of its meat is pink. This is what they call a “Pink Revolution”.”
The next day, in Ghaziabad, he reiterated his opposition to this grand project to slaughter cows. This was classic dog whistle and, as subsequent events have shown, extremely effective.
However, recent comments leading up to the Lok Sabha elections do make one question whether they qualify as dog whistle any more. The message is so thinly veiled that it may as well strut about naked. It is a dog whistle for dummies.
Shah’s infiltrator jibe makes it clear what he thinks should be the place of Muslims, Christians and other unfortunate peoples in his idea of India. In the same speech, he called Bangladeshi illegal immigrants “termites”.
Last time he made the termite reference, in September last year in Delhi, Andrew Stroehlein, European media director at Human Rights Watch, said it reminded him of a “path to genocide”. Such dehumanisation does not put Shah in good company. Jews were regularly referred to as parasites by the Nazis in the lead up to the Holocaust. The Tutsi people of Rwanda were disparaged as “cockroaches” before an estimated 1,000,000 of them were killed in a genocide.
This time, Shah has expanded his definition of “infiltrators” from Bangladeshi immigrants to conceivably every Muslim or Christian in this country. Media has a responsibility to not just report dog whistle comments as is, but to recognise and call them out.
Who is going to ask the leader of the largest political party in the world’s largest democracy why he is going by the Nazi playbook?
(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own.)