This is the Bharatiya Janata Party’s India:
In one part of the country, the police have spent the five days interrogating children as young as nine and arrested a parent and a teacher for sedition in connection with a school play that contained one line about hitting people with slippers.
In another, a Union Minister who led chants of “shoot the traitors” continues to campaign for the BJP, even as gunmen actually attacked protesters not long after..
On Tuesday, the Karnataka Police took some children aside at the Shaheen Urdu Medium Primary School in Bidar for the fifth day in a row to be questioned about a school play that the police has declared seditious.
This is because of allegations that some lines in the play, intended to raise awareness about the concerns of Muslims around the discriminatory Citizenship Act amendments, insulted Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Many on social media spread the allegation that the play included a line about beating the prime minister with a slipper – even though many news organisation have debunked this.
Instead, video clips of the play show that one of the children says that anyone who demands documents to prove one’s citizenship should be beaten with chappals.
Read that again: the Karnataka Police has been interrogating children, between nine and 12 years old, for five days now about one line in a school play. Two people have been arrested on sedition charges, even though the Supreme Court has repeatedly said the section can be invoked only in cases of an act that leads to public disorder.
Meanwhile in Delhi, Union Minister Anurag Thakur is back on the campaign trail ahead of Delhi elections on February 8. Last week, Thakur was prohibited from campaigning for three days by the Election Commission of India for making “undesirable and objectionable statements”.
This action came after he was seen on video at a BJP rally leading a familiar right-wing chant, in which he asked, “What should we do with ‘traitors’?” The crowd roared back, “Shoot the bastards.”
Thakur’s party has repeatedly made it clear that it believes that any opposition to its brand of Hindutva politics is equivalent to treason. In effect, the “traitors” whom BJP supporters want shot are anyone who disagrees with the party. The context is that the party has been attempting to demonise protesters who have been demonstrating for nearly two months in the capital and around the country against Citizenship Act amendments that many believe will be used to harass Indian Muslims.
Indeed, not long after Thakur’s “shoot them” chant, gunmen attacked peaceful protesters in the capital on three separate occasions. One BJP Member of Parliament, Arjun Singh, defended these gunmen saying, “Our young children, who have been misguided, are resorting to firing in confusion.”
Whatever you think of India’s sedition laws – which have been chronically been misused by governments of all stripes – it should be clear that a Union Minister leading chants calling for gun violence at a political rally is a much bigger threat to the peace than a school play with talk of chappals.
The effects of such actions – the trauma faced by those children, the polarisation of society – are not easy to undo. The BJP knows it is playing with fire, brazenly hoping it will gain power even if it has to scorch the earth to get there.
That Anurag Thakur, whom the Election Commission temporarily banned, received no criticism from within his party and continues to campaign is as clear of a sign of how far the BJP is willing to go in its desire to polarise voters to win elections.
That the abhorrent interrogation of children has not received universal condemnation is another sign of the depths to which the BJP has brought discourse in the country to, at a time when Union Minsiters can call their political opponents “terrorists” (despite the BJP giving a person accused in a conspiracy a party ticket to run for Parliament).
But then, this is the India’s that the BJP has assembled. And with the Delhi elections still a few days away, and many more polls in upcoming months, this discourse is not going to change soon.