The Big Story: An old script
It has become a pattern. When in campaign mode, the Bharatiya Janata Party can be relied on to fight rival parties with fake news and a dash of communalism. At an election rally in Karnataka this Tuesday, BJP president Amit Shah demanded to know why no first information report had been filed against Mohammed Haris Nalapad, son of a Congress legislator, accused of assaulting a man. It was because of the Congress’s vote bank politics and appeasement of minorities, said Shah, answering his own question. In fact, there is an FIR against Nalapad on charges of assault and attempt to murder. The Congress has also suspended the former Bengaluru District Youth Congress general secretary. Nalapad surrendered to the police on Monday night.
The Congress, of course, leaves itself open to attack when its party members are allegedly involved in such deplorable incidents. Nalapad’s reported assault of a 24-year-old with a broken leg at an expensive Bangalore restaurant reaffirms the stereotype of entitled Congress “baba log” who treat voters like subjects and wield power like a bludgeon. But Shah’s insinuations are dangerous in their own way, injecting misinformation into the poll campaign and sounding the bugle for polarisation.
The BJP had deployed the same tactics in Gujarat last year. First, in the Rajya Sabha elections, which boiled down to a personal battle between Shah, the famed election strategist still stained by the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case, and Ahmed Patel, an old Congress hand. The BJP sought to link Patel to a case made out by the Gujarat police against two suspected Islamic State operatives. One of them was employed at a hospital with which Patel was associated. It accused the Congress of “harbouring terrorists”, a distinctly communalised charge which seemed to twin minorities with criminality, so-called appeasement with active abetting of terror. It was all the more dangerous because it had little basis in fact. The Rajya Sabha contest paved the way for such a viciously fought assembly election that even the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological parent of the BJP, chastised the party for “abrogation of decency”.
In Karnataka so far, there are signs that the familiar rhetoric of Hindutva will be deployed once again, especially in coastal areas. The BJP has sought to portray the Congress government as one that practises Muslim appeasement, after a circular was sent to the state police asking for a reconsideration of cases against innocent Muslims. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the BJP have also claimed that 23 of their workers have been killed, though the government disputes the figure. Going ahead, will Karnataka be a repeat of Gujarat? The Gujarat campaign may continue to poison politics for years to come. There is still time for the BJP to change the conversation in Karnataka and fight a cleaner campaign.
The Big Scroll
Supriya Sharma reports on how the BJP is wielding Hindutva as rhetoric in Karnataka.
Aarefa Johari does a fact check of Amit Shah’s claims in Gujarat.
- In the Indian Express, DN Jha punctures some historical claims made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
- In the Hindu, G Sampath argues that private capital must be made to pay if it wants to use personal data for commercial gain.
- In the Telegraph, Sugata Bose revisits Japan and the idea of Asia.
Amitangshu Acharya writes on Dhrubajyoti Ghosh, the savior of Kolkata’s wetlands, who died last week:
Almost 30 years ago, as a sanitation engineer with the government of West Bengal, Ghosh wanted to find out where Kolkata’s 750 million litres of wastewater disappeared, given that the city did not have a single treatment plant. His curiosity led him to discover the “kidneys of Kolkata” – the East Kolkata Wetlands. Surviving on the eastern fringes of the city, this vast network of wetlands received the city’s sewage and converted it into food for fish, which was then sold back to the city. Upending conventional scientific wisdom, Kolkata is a city where sewage is a nutrient and not a pollutant.