For a fortnight, India has been shaken up by protests against the new Citizenship Amendment Act. Some of these protests have been marked by violence and police brutality. Eighteen people have died in Uttar Pradesh alone. Many of the injured in hospital bear bullet wounds. Across Uttar Pradesh, Muslim families have lost a lifetime of accumulation as the police barged into their homes, destroying vehicles and television sets and other expensive household items, assaulting residents at random – even those who did not participate in protests.
With the country on the boil, one would expect politicians of any ruling party to act responsibly. But the Bharatiya Janata Party does not seem to understand this.
Last week, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath warned that “revenge will be taken” on those who destroyed public property during protests. His government has started issuing notices to recover damages from alleged miscreants based on a flawed 2010 order of the Allahabad High Court. However, no action has been initiated against police personnel who have been caught on scores of videos wantonly destroying private property.
This official action aside, BJP leaders have continued to make reckless comments that are adding to the intense feeling of alienation that the Muslim community is experiencing after the passage of a law that discriminates against them on the basis of their religious identity.
On Monday, Bengaluru South MP Tejasvi Surya described those opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act as “ illiterate puncture shop walas”, a derogatory reference to Muslims.
In Gujarat, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani told a rally called to support the Citizenship Amendment Act that while Hindus had one only India to call their home, Muslims have 150 countries to live in. Given that the prospect of a nationwide National Register of Citizens has heightened the fears of Muslims that they will be targeted with deportation orders, statements of this sort are calculated to exacerbate the community’s anxieties.
Worse was the comment of Haryana BJP MLA Leela Ram Gurjar. A video clip of his public speech that went viral on social media on Wednesday showed the legislator stating that those protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens could be “wiped out” within an hour.
If the BJP wants the protests to stop, it should first listen to the voices those who have risked their lives by taking to the streets in the face of police brutality. Such reckless comments by its leaders demonstrate either the complicity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s leadership or their complete loss of control over their colleagues. Either situation is alarming.