One day before the 75th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination by Nathuram Godse, fascist forces of the Hindutva variety made their presence felt in Mumbai with an ominous ‘Hindu Jan Aakrosh Morcha’ (rally for Hindu people’s fury). The rally, purportedly organized against ‘love jihad’ and ‘land jihad’, ended with a provocative speech by Goshamahal MLA T Raja Singh calling for a boycott of Muslim owned businesses and for Hindus to ‘slit throats’ . Not surprisingly, Mumbai’s AQI plummeted to a new low on Sunday.
The rally was organized by the Sakal Hindu Samaj. It is an umbrella organization of several Hindutva organizations including Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS), Shiv Pratishthan and Sanatan Sanstha. Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan, which claims to propagate the ideology of Shivaji was founded by Manohar alias Sambhaji Bhide, 87, who has been accused of triggering the Bhima Koregaon riots in 2018. Members of HJS and its sister organization Sanatan Sanstha have been charged for the murder of journalists and rationalists like Gauri Lankesh, MM Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare. For a discourse inured by new lows, this mainstreaming of violent, extreme organizations is truly breathtaking. These facts did not deter prominent figures and legislators from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including Ashish Shelar, the BJP MLA and Mumbai president, BJP MPs Gopal Shetty and Member of Parliament and Standing Committee Member for Finance and Commerce, Manoj Kotak, MLC Pravin Darekar and BJP secretary Vinod Shelar from attending the rally. A day before, BJP leader and state Women and Child Development Minister Mangal Prabhat Lodha had urged Mumbaikars to participate in the rally on Sunday saying, “I am urging everyone to come and attend this for one day, for your community.”
The rally, which started at 10 a.m. from Shivaji Park in Dadar, covered a 2.7-kilometer route through central Mumbai and ended at Kamgar Maidan in Prabhadevi. Mumbai police estimated that the rally was attended by 10,000 to 12,000 citizens.
The Hindu Jan Aakrosh Morcha originated from a rally in the Parbhani district of the Marathwada region in November of last year. Over the past three months, similar rallies have been organized across over 20 districts in Maharashtra, including Parbhani, Nanded, Ahmednagar, Kolhapur, Gadchiroli, Satara, Karad, Sangli, Solapur, Pune, Dhule, Jalgaon, Nagpur, Amravati, Hingoli, Buldhana, and Jalna. Many of them have been attended by local BJP leaders including ministers of the state government.
One eye on the upcoming municipal elections
Along with ‘love-jihad’ the other issue that the protest tried to foreground was an odd concept called ‘land-jihad’. Many participants in the rally had no clue of what it meant. But identical posters asking the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) to ‘wake up and ‘take note’’ could be seen in the crowd.
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines Disinformation as ‘false information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth’. One of the first to bring the bogey of ‘Zameen Jihad’ into the mainstream was the notorious TV anchor Sudhir Chaudhury, known for his communally provocative shows, who hosted a segment about it on prime time television. On a complaint filed by CJP, the National Broadcasting and Digital Standards Authority (NBDSA) took the the prima facie view that the tone and tenor of the programme was divisive and that broadcast targeted a particular community.
Land-jihad: A disinformation campaign that claims ‘Muslims’ are encroaching on land in ‘Hindu’ areas.
In keeping with the obfuscating nature of rumors, most rallyist we spoke to, conflated ‘love-jihad’ and ‘land-jihad’ and appeared clueless when pressed for further information.
One young participant drinking tea at a nearby cafe claimed that ‘Land-Jihad’ refers to illegal encroachments by Muslims in the city. When asked how the problem of encroachments in a city like Mumbai was restricted to Muslims only, he had no answer. Yet another rallyist from Ghatkopar claimed that a madrasah near the entry gates of his society had slowly transformed into a Mosque and that women of their society were finding it difficult to walk in and out of the main gates. On being asked why, he said , “We are a Hindu majority society and many Muslim men came to offer namaz at the mosque”. Why that worried the women of his society, or him, was not very clear. Our conversation was interrupted by an older man who said ‘whatever needs to be said will be said from the stage’.
Don’t speak to the press
‘Don’t speak to the press’ was a common refrain. An announcement to the effect was made by an organizer, ironically standing behind TV cameras. “Nobody will address the media. Stay away from the press. Organizers have issued clear instructions that no office bearer is to speak to the press”. Though many participants chose to speak to the media.
But a sleekly produced booklet, distributed widely, leaves nothing to imagination, so to say. It starts off with a comparison of how the Muslim population has increased in Mumbai in the last 25 years, along with an increase in the number of Muslim corporators. It then puts next to an image of the 26/11 attacker Ajmal Kasab, an image from the infamous Raza academy protests at Azad Main. It then goes on to claim that Mumbai’s hindus are living in fear. It declares that ‘land-jihad’ is a common occurrence in Malwani, a Muslim majority area in Malad and lists a number of Mumbai neighborhoods where Muslims have displaced Marathi speaking Hindus. All without any substantiation whatsoever. The 32 page booklet is little else but a cynical exercise in rumor mongering and, by comparing a Pakistani terrorist with an Indian Muslim, and by listing Muslim majority areas, a pamphlet geared to provoke and strike fear.
A provocative booklet widely distributed at the rally
A vicious finale
At Kamgar maidan, the rally was addressed by no less a personality than T Raja Singh, the Goshamahal MLA, who stands suspended from the BJP for making a controversial video insulting the Prophet Mohammad. It was simply a step too far for a man known only for his hate filled diatribes. He was briefly arrested and spent 76 days in jail. This seems to have only burnished his popularity among the followers of Hindutva. When we parted, the young man in the cafe sipping tea, asked us to go and hear him speak. “T Raja Singh is here”, he beamed. In Kamgar Maidan on Sunday, he didn’t disappoint his fans. In a blustering speech peppered with disinformation, Raja Singh called for an economic boycott of Muslims, calling them an assortment of names and finally, asking the audience to get ready to kill.
Here are some of the most provocative and misleading claims that Mr Singh made in Mumbai on Sunday, most to ecstatic cheer from the crowd including presumably, BJP leaders.
Quoting a ‘rate card’ for women from different Hindu communities, he said that Muslim men are paid to trap Hindu women into relationships. This fake claim has been comprehensively busted online.
He claimed that eighty-percent of Zomato and Swiggy delivery boys are ‘landye’ (an offensive term pejoratively used for Muslim men). Phone numbers of women are procured through the apps and used to trick unsuspecting women into a relationship.
He warned women booking an Ola, Uber or Rapido, to check if the driver is a ‘tilakdhari’ (Hindu) or a ‘gau mas khane wala gaddar’ (Cow eating traitor)
He asked women to check if their tailor or shopkeeper who sells ‘sringar’ or ‘churi’ (accessories) or the instructor at the local gym or dance teacher is a ‘landya’ or ‘tilak dhari’.
He claimed that In areas like Pathanwadi, Kurla and Mumbra, the population of Muslims is increasing. He goes on to warn, ‘‘If this increase in population is not controlled, we will only see ‘gol topis’ (skull caps) everywhere. While we practice a policy of ‘hum do aur hamare do’(two of us will have only two children), they practice ‘hum paanch aur hamare pachas’ (the five of us will have fifty children)’’
He asked for votes in the name of religion saying “In the upcoming BMC elections vote for a government which will demolish ‘illegally constructed Mazars and mosques’ “
Openly calling for an economic boycott of the minority community, the MLA asked the audience to only buy from Hindus and not buy anything from ‘these jihadis’. Do not buy anything with a halal certificate, he added for good measure.
Finally, in a violent, final appeal he said, “ Do you know what Balasaheb Thackrey used to say? He used to say that our Hindus should not only ring temple bells, our Hindus should kills ‘landyas’ (‘landyon ko thokne wala Hindu bane’), who kills those who practice ‘love-jihad’ and ‘conversion’, who slits the throats of ‘kasais’ (butchers)”
While releasing him from prison, the honorable judges of Telangana High Court had ordered Raja Singh to not make any provocative speech against any religion. The advice was very obviously wasted on the MLA.
BJP MLA Raja Singh at Mumbai’s Kamgar Maidan. Image Courtesy FB/AvlaVivekBJP
Ghosts of thirty years past
Parel’s Kamgar Maidan derives its name from the Mill workers who launched their many agitations for better working and living conditions from its premises in the seventies and eighties. In December 1992, January 1993, following the Babri Masjid demolition, deadly riots ] in the city changed irrevocably how Hindus and Muslims lived and interacted with each other. Many Muslims moved away from mixed localities and into new locations, where numbers guaranteed safety. Thirty years later, the mills are gone. Tall skyscrapers occupy the land around Kamgar Maidan. A Grand Ram Mandir has vanquished the memory of Babri Masjid. And a new generation of fascists have come to town tomtoming new weapons in their arsenal.
Targeting Interfaith, intercommunity marriages is an age old fascist wet dream. But the specter of ‘love-jihad’ appeared distant, unreal in famously impersonal Mumbai. It was something that happened to other couples in other parts of the country. But this rally, encouraged by those we have elected to rule over us, spells an unprecedented downward slide in Mumbai’s cosmopolitan air. A dark smog is descending on the city. Mumbai should brace for impact.
A selection of posters from the rally: