In the beginning days of September, India witnessed a troubling surge in hate speech incidents, with three separate instances involving prominent leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). These incidents shed light on a concerning trend where individuals in positions of political authority, who are entrusted with the responsibility of governing the country, appear to be actively fanning the flames of Islamophobia. These actions have come to the forefront, particularly in the context of upcoming elections, and raise pressing questions about the role of politicians in promoting social harmony and inclusivity. The three incidents are summarised below-
- Ahmedabad, Gujarat – Ashwini Upadhyay’s Demographic Conspiracy: On September 12, 2023, Ashwini Upadhyay, a prominent BJP member, propagated a conspiracy theory in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, claiming demographic shifts in India posed a threat. He called for action to reclaim land, making divisive statements and spreading this rhetoric on social media.
- Pune, Maharashtra – Mahesh Kisanrao Landge’s Hate Speech: On September 4, 2023, BJP MLA Mahesh Kisanrao Landge delivered a hate speech in Pune, Maharashtra, where he threatened to repeat the Babri mosque demolition and labelled Muslim localities as “terrorist hubs,” inciting communal tensions. BJP lawmaker Nitesh Rane made similar threatening speeches.
- Rajasthan (Barmer) – Gajendra Singh Shekhawat’s Inflammatory Remarks: In September 2023, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, a BJP leader and Union Minister, issued inflammatory statements in Barmer, Rajasthan. He threatened violence against critics of Sanatan Dharma, using graphic imagery of harm, raising concerns about religious tensions and freedom of speech.
These incidents collectively paint a worrying picture of politicians using their platforms to propagate divisive narratives, particularly those targeting religious and ethnic minorities, during a critical period marked by upcoming elections. Instead of fostering unity and promoting inclusivity, these leaders appear to be contributing to the rise of Islamophobia and communal tensions. The role of political leaders in shaping public discourse is significant, and these recent events underscore the importance of responsible leadership in preserving social harmony and upholding democratic values in India. All these incidents are described below in detail.
Date: September 12, 2023
Location: Ahmedabad, Gujarat
On September 12, 2023, Ashwini Upadhyay, a prominent member of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), was found peddling a conspiracy theory regarding demographic change in India. This incident occurred in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. The source of this information is a video posted by Hindutva Watch on Twitter.
Location: Ahmedabad, Gujarat
BJP Ashwini Upadhyay peddles conspiracy theory of demographic change to spread fear of Muslim minorities. pic.twitter.com/N2ORLfsdnZ
— HindutvaWatch (@HindutvaWatchIn) September 12, 2023
In the video, Ashwini Upadhyay discussed how the demographics of India are changing, emphasizing that areas near the borders have a higher Muslim population than Hindus. He portrayed this as a negative development, framing it as a threat to India. Towards the end of his speech, Upadhyay made a controversial statement, claiming that when the British came to India, they built churches, and when the Mughals came, they built mosques and allocated land to Muslims. He called for action to reclaim this land, suggesting that political leaders make provocative statements without facing prosecution for hate speech.
Ashwini Upadhyay has not limited these views to his speeches but has also spread them on various social media platforms. Additionally, Amit Upadhyay, another individual, was mentioned in connection with spreading online misinformation related to India’s population growth. He claimed that Muslim neighbours were having too many babies, urging Hindu women to bear more children to counter this perceived threat.
These actions by Upadhyay and others have been characterised as promoting Islamophobia and spreading false demographic data to suggest that India is becoming an Islamic state, despite data indicating otherwise. India’s last National Family Health Survey in 2021 showed an overall fertility rate of 2.0 children per woman, rising slightly to 2.3 for Muslim women. Projections by the Pew Research Centre in the same year suggested that India’s Muslim population would grow but remain a minority in a country of 1.7 billion people by 2050.
Conspiracy theories about Muslims plotting to achieve numerical supremacy in India have been promoted by Hindu nationalist ideologues for years, contributing to tensions and social divisions.
Date: September 4, 2023
Location: Pune, Maharashtra
On September 4, 2023, in Pune, Maharashtra, BJP MLA Mahesh Kisanrao Landge delivered a hate speech that contained threats of repeating the Babri mosque demolition and derogatory labels for Muslim localities in Pune. The incident was captured in a video shared on Twitter by Hindutva Watch.
Location: Pune, Maharashtra
Date: September 4, 2023
BJP MLA Mahesh Kisanrao Landge delivers hate speech threatening a repeat of Babri mosque demolition and labels Muslim localities in Pune as a “terrorist” hub. pic.twitter.com/yhm7TTvhsX
— HindutvaWatch (@HindutvaWatchIn) September 6, 2023
In the video, Kisanrao Landge not only threatened a repeat of the Babri mosque demolition that took place in 1992 but also labelled Muslim localities in Pune as “terrorist hubs.” His speech was met with applause and cheers from the audience. This hate speech has the potential to incite communal tensions and is a matter of concern for maintaining peace and harmony in the region.
Date: September 2023
Location: Rajasthan (Specifically, Barmer)
In September 2023, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, a BJP leader and Union Minister of Jal Shakti, made inflammatory statements during an election rally in Rajasthan, specifically in Barmer. A video of his speech was shared on Twitter by Hindutva Watch.
BJP leader and Union Minister of Jal Shakti Gajendra Singh Shekhawat advocates violence against people who speak against Sanatan Dharma. pic.twitter.com/oWQwpQLYBL
— HindutvaWatch (@HindutvaWatchIn) September 11, 2023
In his speech, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat threatened violence against those who speak against Sanatan Dharma (an umbrella term for various traditional Indian religions) and made disturbing remarks about pulling out tongues and plucking out eyes of individuals who criticize or disrespect this religious tradition. He framed his statements as a defence of Sanatan Dharma against perceived threats.
These remarks by Gajendra Singh Shekhawat are alarming and have the potential to incite violence and religious tensions. Such statements go against principles of religious tolerance and freedom of speech.
Historical Context of Interfaith Relationships in India
A. Overview of India’s Diverse Religious Landscape
India boasts a diverse religious landscape, encompassing Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, and various other faiths. This diversity has been a hallmark of the country for centuries and reflects a mosaic of beliefs, traditions, and practices. Interfaith interactions have been an integral part of Indian society, contributing to a tapestry of cultural richness and mutual understanding.
B. Communal Tensions in Post-Independence India
The period following India’s independence in 1947 witnessed communal tensions and challenges. The partition of India into two separate nations, India and Pakistan, resulted in one of the largest mass migrations in human history. This process led to significant interfaith migration and violence, as communities were divided along religious lines.
Efforts to promote secularism and religious tolerance were enshrined in India’s constitution, with the vision of a harmonious and inclusive society. However, the scars of partition and occasional flare-ups of communal violence have remained.
C. Rise of Hindu Nationalism and Religious Polarization
The post-independence era also saw the rise of Hindu nationalist movements, notably the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its political arm, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). These movements promoted a vision of India that emphasized Hindu identity and values.
As a result, instances of religious polarization and interfaith tensions emerged, driven by political factors. The use of religious symbols and rhetoric in politics began to play a more prominent role, and divisions along religious lines became more pronounced in certain areas.
D. Interfaith Harmony Initiatives
Despite challenges, India has seen numerous instances of interfaith harmony and cooperation. Religious leaders from various faiths have played a pivotal role in promoting unity and social integration. Initiatives aimed at fostering religious tolerance, dialogue, and mutual respect have been undertaken at the grassroots level.
The government has also introduced policies to encourage religious harmony and inclusivity, emphasising the importance of coexistence and shared values among India’s diverse religious communities.
E. Regional Variations in Interfaith Relations
India is a vast and diverse country, and interfaith relations can vary significantly from one region to another. Some regions are known for their long history of interfaith tolerance and peaceful coexistence. In these areas, communities have lived together harmoniously for generations.
In contrast, there are regions where communal forces have been on the ascendant, leading to interfaith tensions and occasional outbreaks of violence. Historical, social, and political factors can contribute to these variations in interfaith relations.
F. Role of Elections in Shaping Interfaith Discourse
Political factors, including elections, have played a significant role in shaping interfaith discourse and tensions in India. During election campaigns, some politicians have sought to mobilize voters along religious lines, using religious identity and rhetoric to garner support.
This use of religious identity for political gains has at times contributed to the exacerbation of interfaith tensions, particularly in the run-up to elections.
Understanding this historical context of interfaith relationships in India is crucial for comprehending the complex dynamics that underlie recent hate speech incidents involving BJP leaders. These incidents are not isolated occurrences but are situated within a broader historical and political landscape that influences the country’s social fabric.
Motivations and Ideology of the Far-Right Group
Motivations behind the Violent Acts
To understand the motivations behind the violent acts committed by far-right groups, it is essential to delve into the underlying factors that may have driven their actions:
- Political Motivations: Far-right groups often have political goals, and their actions may be driven by a desire to gain or consolidate political power. In the context of India, where elections play a significant role in shaping political discourse, these groups may resort to violence to further their political agendas.
- Religious or Communal Motivations: Ideological beliefs that emphasize the protection of a particular religious or communal identity can motivate far-right groups to commit acts of violence against perceived threats. In India, religious polarization and communal tensions can play a role in such motivations.
- Social Factors: Socioeconomic disparities and social grievances can also be motivating factors. Far-right groups may exploit these grievances to mobilize support and engage in violent activities.
Analysis of Ideological Beliefs
Investigating the ideologies promoted by far-right groups involved in the incidents provides insights into their motivations:
- Religious Nationalism: Many far-right groups in India promote the idea of religious nationalism, where one religious identity is elevated above others. This can manifest in the form of extremist Hindu nationalism, which sees Hinduism as the dominant and exclusive identity of India.
- Anti-Minority Sentiments: Far-right ideologies often include anti-minority sentiments, portraying religious or ethnic minorities as threats to the majority identity. This can fuel hostility towards minority communities.
- Ethnic or Racial Supremacy: Some far-right ideologies advocate for ethnic or racial supremacy, where one group believes it is superior to others. Such beliefs can lead to discrimination and violence against perceived inferior groups.
- Populist Nationalism: Far-right groups may also adopt populist nationalist ideologies, where they position themselves as champions of the majority population’s interests against perceived external or internal threats.
Influence of Ideologies on Target Selection
The ideologies promoted by far-right groups play a critical role in influencing their choice of targets, particularly individuals from different faiths:
- Scapegoating Minorities: Far-right ideologies often scapegoat religious or ethnic minorities, portraying them as responsible for various societal issues. This scapegoating can lead to violent actions against minority individuals or communities.
- Promoting Fear: Ideologies that emphasize the fear of demographic change or the perceived dilution of a dominant identity can motivate violence against minority groups, as seen in the rhetoric regarding demographic shifts.
- Polarising Communities: Ideological beliefs that polarize communities along religious or ethnic lines can create an environment conducive to violence against those seen as outsiders or threats.
Understanding the motivations and ideologies of far-right groups involved in these incidents is crucial for assessing the root causes of the violence and devising strategies to counteract extremism and promote social harmony. It also highlights the need for addressing underlying political, social, and ideological factors that contribute to such violence
Factors Contributing to the Violence
- Role of Elections: Elections, especially in India, have a significant impact on communal tensions. Political parties may employ divisive rhetoric and identity politics to appeal to specific voter demographics, which can exacerbate tensions between communities.
- Political Rhetoric: Examining political rhetoric is crucial, as inflammatory statements or promises to protect a particular community’s interests can contribute to communal violence. Politicians who exploit religious or ethnic divides for electoral gain can fuel hostilities.
Cultural and Historical Factors
- Cultural Diversity: India’s rich cultural diversity can sometimes become a source of tension, as different communities vie for recognition and protection of their cultural practices and identities. Conflicts can arise when one group perceives their culture as under threat.
- Historical Conflicts: Past instances of interfaith conflicts, including events like the 1947 partition of India and subsequent communal violence, can cast a long shadow over present-day tensions. Historical grievances and memories of violence can contribute to the perpetuation of hostilities.
Media and Online Propaganda
- Digital Platforms: The role of media and online platforms in spreading hate speech and misinformation cannot be underestimated. Extremist ideologies find fertile ground in digital spaces, where they can reach a wider audience and amplify communal tensions.
- Echo Chambers: Social media can create echo chambers where individuals are exposed to extremist views that reinforce their existing beliefs. This can radicalize individuals and contribute to a cycle of intolerance.
Lack of Accountability
- Impunity: Perceived impunity for those inciting violence or hate speech can embolden far-right groups. When individuals responsible for incitement face no consequences, it sends a dangerous signal that such behaviour is tolerated or condoned.
- Legal Framework: Examining the legal framework and its effectiveness in addressing hate speech and violence is crucial. Weak or poorly enforced laws can hinder efforts to hold perpetrators accountable.
Understanding these contributing factors is essential for developing strategies to address communal tensions and prevent violence. Addressing the root causes, such as political exploitation, economic disparities, historical grievances, and online radicalization, is vital for promoting social harmony and tolerance in diverse societies like India.
Government and Community Responses
Government and Law Enforcement Actions
- Response of Local Authorities: In the wake of the hate speech incidents involving BJP leaders, the response of local authorities and law enforcement agencies has been a matter of concern. As of the time of this report, there is a noticeable lack of concrete actions taken by these bodies to address the issue.
- Legal Actions: Unfortunately, there is no evidence of legal actions taken against the perpetrators of the hate speeches. This lack of legal action is a significant concern, as it can perpetuate a sense of impunity among those who engage in hate speech and promote communal tensions.
Community and Civil Society Initiatives
- Civil Society Activism: In response to the hate speech incidents, civil society organizations and activists have raised their voices, demanding accountability and action against those responsible. These efforts play a crucial role in highlighting the need for justice and social harmony.
- Interfaith Dialogue: Some community leaders and organizations have initiated interfaith dialogues and initiatives aimed at promoting understanding and harmony among different religious communities. These efforts are crucial for bridging divides and fostering tolerance.
- Public Awareness Campaigns: Various groups and individuals have taken to social media and other platforms to raise awareness about the dangers of hate speech and its implications for social harmony. Public awareness campaigns can have a positive impact on curbing hate speech.
Implications on Social Harmony-
The recent surge in hate speech incidents involving prominent BJP leaders in India carries profound implications for the nation’s social harmony and interfaith relationships. These incidents have the potential to erode the fragile fabric of coexistence that has defined India’s diverse religious landscape for centuries. They not only deepen communal fault lines but also breed mistrust among religious communities. Such divisive rhetoric, especially during a period marked by upcoming elections, can polarize society further, making it increasingly challenging to foster an environment of tolerance and inclusivity. Additionally, the normalisation of hate speech within political discourse sets a troubling precedent, further entrenching communal tensions and undermining the principles of secularism and pluralism that India has long espoused. The long-term consequences of these incidents on social harmony and political discourse are deeply concerning and necessitate urgent attention and corrective action.
In conclusion, the analysis of recent hate speech incidents involving prominent BJP leaders in India reveals a troubling trend of political figures actively fuelling interfaith tensions and promoting divisive ideologies. These incidents underscore the urgency of addressing the root causes of interfaith violence and the pressing need to promote tolerance, inclusivity, and social harmony in the country. The rich tapestry of India’s religious diversity has long been a source of strength and resilience, and it is imperative to safeguard this heritage. To counteract divisive ideologies and hate speech, proactive measures must be taken at multiple levels, including political, social, and educational fronts. India’s political leadership must prioritise responsible discourse and actively work to bridge communal divides. Community leaders, religious figures, and civil society must continue their efforts to foster interfaith understanding and cooperation. Additionally, educational institutions should emphasize the values of secularism, pluralism, and religious tolerance to nurture a more harmonious and inclusive society. It is only through collective efforts that India can counter the rise of hate speech, preserve its social harmony, and uphold its democratic values.