Citizens should worry when violent ‘fringe’ elements are invited to join mainstream politics. The latest case in point is rabble rouser Suraj Pal Amu of Karni Sena, who has earned his latest appointment as Bharatiya Janata Party’s spokerman in Haryana. He has in fact been working for it for many years.
His most effective way to stay in the limelight, till a few years ago, was to attack makers of period Hindi films, claiming they hurt his ‘Rajput’ pride by allegedly distorting the community’s history on celluloid. It did not matter that the films were fictionalized, dramatised story telling, with elaborate costumes, choreographed fights, song and dance thrown in for mass appeal. History books do not really have records of kings and queens breaking into songs, or choreographed dances in the middle of a battlefield, or holding court while background music plays or for that matter dramatic exchange of lengthy dialogues. None of that mattered to Suraj Pal Amu and his team who first got noticed when they tried to derail the film Jodha Akbar allegeding ‘distortion of history’ by the filmmakers, however that issue died down.
A few years later, they spotted another controversy worth fuelling, when the film Padmavat, was being made. Violent mobs who claimed to be affiliated to this group attacked the filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali during a shoot, then threatened violence against the film’s lead actor Deepika Paukone, as well as against those who showed the film to the public. The worst was when school children were attacked in their schoolbus, allegedly by members of this group in Gurgaon. The controversy went on for a while, till the courts stepped in and ensured the film was released. Both films were well received by the public at large.
However, Karni Sena, reportedly set up in 2006 by Lokendra Singh Kalvi to put forth the Rajput community’s demand for reservation in government jobs and education, encourage more community representation in government, and also more visibility for historical figures in school textbooks. However, over the years, its most public ‘achievement’ that gave it footage on loud television debates was its violent opposition to the film Padmavat. In 2017 its leader Suraj Pal Amu, announced a reward for “beheading actor Deepika Padukone” over the controversy surrounding the film.
The now Karani Sena Chief, Suraj Pal Amu, managed to stay in the limelight for much of 2018. Appearing aggressively on TV debates, lashing out at co-panelists and even journalists. He got thrown out of one such debate on NewsX when he addressed anchor Sanjana Chowhan as ‘baby’ in January. He also was heard lashing out at a Republic TV reporter on the same day. However all that pales in comparison to what he has been doing lately.
Targeting Muslims, inciting violence
Suraj Pal Amu, proudly posted on his Facebook page, clips from a communal hate speech he made before a “Hindu Mahapanchayat ” at Indri (Nuh), Haryana. He called Muslims killers, accusing the community of targeting Hindu women and called for the crowds to “respond”. He is heard “justifying” the killings, almost caling them ‘protests’, especially validating the murder of Asif Khan. Communal tension has been rising in Haryana’s Nuh district following the brutal killing of 27-year-old Asif Khan last month. His family had alleged that he was abducted, asked to chant Hindu chants that had been turned into war cries by Hindutva mobs, and then beaten to death on May 6. Amu’s hate speech against Muslims was received with applause by the large gathering that day. He posted multiple videos of the event on his social media.
A few days after that speech, on June 11, Amu was named a BJP spokesperson in Haryana. The appointment was announced by BJP’s Haryana state president Om Prakash Dhankar.
सभी नव नियुक्त साथियों को बधाई ?? pic.twitter.com/4ywJ5uQ7Oj
— Om Prakash Dhankar (@OPDhankar) June 11, 2021
In his TV appearances, Amu has often said he is a law graduate and has been a long time activist of the Sangh. He has previously held many offices in the BJP including that of State Secretary, State Vice-President, National Executive Member of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), etc. He was also a Haryana spokesperson BJP in 2013, and 2014-2019, and was also the Chief Media Coordinator for the party in the state… a bio-data he often repeats as if to re-establish his party credentials. He no longer mentions that he was probably forced to resign from his party post in 2019 following his 2018 arrest, and subsequent bail in the case surrounding Padmavat controversy. He then took on a full time role as the President of Shri Rajput Karni Sena, however, since then the target has not really been a film for the group.
The Hindu Mahapanchayat stage
Amu’s address at the “Hindu Mahapanchayat” at Indri village in Nuh on May 30, is proof of their new, communal focus. Senior CPIM leader Brinda Karat recently wrote in her column on NDTV, “Amu led the plethora of hate speeches targeting the minority community made in the meeting. His speech is available on YouTube, provocative, justifying the murder and warning of further violence. He describes all Muslims as Pakistani agents and asks if it is a crime to murder them. The man should be in jail under the relevant clauses of the law; instead, he has been rewarded by the BJP with a post as party spokesman.”
She also points out that the Mahapanchayat was also attended by Naresh Kumar, the main accused in the lynching and murder of 15-year-old Junaid in 2017. The teenager was killed when travelling with his cousins on a train from Delhi to Ballabgarh, after being harassed for being Muslims. Junaid, the youngest, was brutally stabbed, and thrown off the train. “Naresh Kumar is out on bail granted by the Punjab and Haryana High Court. He made an equally toxic communal hate speech in which he said that whether those arrested in the Asif murder case are guilty or not, they must be defended as Hindus,” wrote Karat.
Hate speech as an ‘audition’ for politics?
With Amu’s ghar-wapsi into the mainstream BJP fold his Karni Sena has got a validation of sorts. Their main man is now back in a position of power. He has also inspired others of his organisation to make similar provocative hate speeches, calling for violence against muslims. On June 9, Uttar Pradesh Police arrested Thakur Shekhar Chauhan of the Karni Sena after a video of him making objectionable remarks about Muslim women was shared on social media. Chauhan had threatened to kill pregnant Muslim women and their unborn babies. He claimed he was sent by his chief Surajpal Amu to sound this ‘warning’ and would only need an instruction to carry it out too. However, while he was arrested for his threat and hate speech it is his last line that is worrying. He said all the [so-called fringe Hindutva] groups and factions are in fact just different fingers of the same fist.
The ‘fringe’ in fact is more mainstream now than ever. And, the small-time goons emulating their ‘leaders’ hope their hate speeches are perhaps the best way to stay in the limelight and hope for a stepping stone into mainstream politics. A trend that is the precursor of what is yet to come.
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