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  Opinion   Columnists  06 Feb 2020  Delhi poised on edge: Can a hate chant win?

Delhi poised on edge: Can a hate chant win?

Patralekha Chatterjee focuses on development issues in India and emerging economies. She can be reached at
Published : Feb 6, 2020, 1:54 am IST
Updated : Feb 6, 2020, 1:54 am IST

The young men who breezily sauntered down the road shouting explicitly violent slogans were eventually bundled into a police van and taken away.

Prime minister Narendra Modi
 Prime minister Narendra Modi

Love has its stories, poems, songs. Now, hate has found its chant. It is “desh ke gaddaro ko, goli maaro saalo ko” (shoot the traitors). With the Delhi Assembly polls just around the corner, bullet talk has been tripping off the lips of those who see traitors everywhere — among students, housewives, ordinary working women and men — who raise their voices against government policies and laws.

This hatred is no ordinary hatred. It is deep. It is visceral. Most significantly, it’s a hatred that thrives as public spectacle, aided by television and social media. Those who hate or chant the hate slogans don’t wish to be quiet. They are  brazen, unabashed about their beliefs and  crave for their moments of fame on television.

On Tuesday, a group of young men supporting the Citizenship (Amendment) Act marched down the road in front of Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia, chanting “Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalo ko”. They carried the tricolour and also chanted "Jai Shri Ram". Jamia and its neighbourhood, Shaheen Bagh, have been the focal points of the public protests against the Narendra Modi government’s new citizenship law.

A Jamia student who was part of the anti-CAA protest told reporters the group stopped at the barricade where the main protest is on, and chanted “Goli maaro....” in full view of the police present at the spot.

The young men who breezily sauntered down the road shouting explicitly violent slogans were eventually bundled into a police van and taken away. But eyewitnesses said they had nearly half an hour to spew hate in broad daylight,  in full view of the public and police. The young men continued to chant their hate slogans even inside the police van.

“How are students (Muslims and Hindus) gaddar (traitor). If not, then why sloganeering, by pointing fingers at them?” television journalist Saahil Murli Menghani tweeted from the site. The young men enamoured by hate songs are not breaking new ground. They are taking their cues from leaders of the ruling BJP and its brand of hardline Hindutva.

Last month, the Election Commission was forced to order removal of minister of state for finance Anurag Thakur and BJP’s West Delhi MP Parvesh Verma from the party’s star campaigners’ list for the Delhi elections following their statements violating the model code of conduct. Mr Thakur was issued a notice by the EC for participating in a rally where the same chants rent the air. Mr Thakur repeatedly chanted “Desh ke gaddaron ko…” and the crowd responded with “Goli maaro saalo ko”. The minister later told the media he merely asked people what should be done with traitors to the country.

Parvesh Verma, the BJP MP for West Delhi, was pulled up by the EC for saying “These people can enter your homes. They will take your sisters and daughters, rape them and kill them,” in a scarcely-veiled reference to Shaheen Bagh, a working-class Muslim neighbourhood, where protests have been dominantly secular led by ordinary women.

Mr Verma later pooh-poohed the EC ban. He told a TV channel the public was his only judge, and no institution could ban him.

Neither Mr Thakur nor Mr Verma showed the slightest remorse for their patently divisive words reeking of hatred for people whose only fault is that they don’t see eye to eye with the government. The BJP fielded Mr Verma to defend the government’s CAA stand in Lok Sabha.

The BJP’s Kapil Mishra also shouted  the same “Desh ke…” while leading  a march in support of the new law. He is the party candidate from Model Town constituency for this weekend’s Delhi elections. Mr Mishra claims he meant arsonists, not all protesters.

Campaigning for the same poll, Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath, a BJP star campaigner, also spliced his speeches with references to goli (bullet) — “Jo hamla karega, toh phir boli se nahi, usko police ki goli samjhane ki karya karegi” (Police bullets, not words, will make miscreants understand).

Hate as a public spectacle was also on full display when a gunman fired at the Jamia protest site, injuring a student. Before opening fire, the gunman shouted at those protesting against the CAA — “Yeh lo azaadi”. The gunman was live streaming the shooting incident on his Facebook page. This deep hatred of those who think differently, who are of different faith and the fascination for converting a crime into a spectator sport reminds one of the savage killings in New Zealand last year. A lone gunman killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch on March 15 while livestreaming the attacks on Facebook.

This new avatar of hatred, where spectacle is the key, is the cutting edge of an India that is getting more and more polarised along sectarian lines, with divisive rhetoric rending the air with  support of the country’s ruling party.

Clearly, the prospect of the spectacle providing 15 seconds of notoriety attracts some youth whose lives may otherwise be bleak. In 2017, Shambu Lal Regar uploaded a terrifying video from Rajasthan — of him hacking and burning a Bengali Muslim migrant labourer, Afrazul Khan.

Now this prospect of hate as a spectacle is mobilising more people to polarise India further.

The immediate reason for this hate crescendo is clear: BJP strategists   think polarisation works in their favour and it’s the most effective way to win the Delhi Assembly polls. We shall know on February 11 if it has succeeded.

What is this campaign of hatred doing to India? Is it possible to have development for all, which the BJP claims to offer, if the country’s existing faultlines get deeper and it is divided further along religious and caste lines?

Will “goli maaro” — the anthem of hate — win?

Despite the grim scenario, there are signs of hope.

Walking down the same road in Jamia where just hours earlier some people had chanted “Goli maaro…”, I found a young man singing a song of love to “Pyara Hindustan”. There were mothers and grandmothers in the crowd; students sat huddled on a mat on the pavement, reading. The university’s Zakir Husain Library had been vandalised when the police stormed the Jamia campus on December 15, beating up students and firing teargas shells inside. At the pavement library that has come up as a protest of its own kind,  a placard states: “Our library might have been vandalised but this cannot stop us from reading.”

The scholars looked unafraid. Fear is not winning everywhere.

Tags: yogi adityanath, election commission