Bharatiya Janata Party National General Secretary Ram Madhav has claimed that former party president Amit Shah’s remark in 2018 calling undocumented migrants from Muslim-majority countries “termites” was taken out of context. Madhav made the assertion during a BBC Hardtalk interview via satellite earlier this week.

“If you are so sure that there is no racism, deep discrimination, communal hate at the heart of your party and movement’s ideology, how do you react when your own Home Minister Amit Shah describes migrants from Muslim majority Bangladesh living in India as ‘termites’ who will be thrown into the Bay of Bengal?” BBC Hardtalk host Stephen Sackur asked Madhav.

In response, Madhav claimed that Shah’s comment was taken out of context, and asserted that all countries must keep out “illegal infiltrators”. “Please explain to me how illegal migrants can be a person of any religion by your definition,” Madhav said. “Illegal immigrants are not welcome in India, towards which we are taking some steps. But sometimes some statements are taken out of context.”

Madhav claimed that the Narendra Modi-led government in India merely wanted to regulate the inflow of migrants, just like any other country. “We have quite a humanitarian sentiment about every person, but after all nations have to safeguard their people, their livelihoods and their economy from illegal infiltrators,” he said.

Shah had made the comment in the context of the preparation of a National Register of Citizens in Assam in September 2018, at a rally in Sawai Madhopur in poll-bound Rajasthan. The following month, he repeated his rhetoric, during an election rally in Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh.

“While you [farmers] feed the people, they [soldiers] guard our borders,” Shah had said. “But infiltrators are like termites who eat away at the country’s security. They need to be removed.”

In March 2019, the United States flagged Amit Shah’s remark. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said while releasing the report on March 13, 2019: “We have told those who disgrace the concept of human dignity that they will pay a price, that their abuses will be meticulously documented and then publicised. By articulating abuses and pressuring non-compliant regimes, we can effect change.”

The final list of Assam’s National Register of Citizens, published in September 2019, had left out over 19 lakh people. These individuals have the right to appeal to Foreigners’ Tribunals to review their cases.


Madhav defends measures taken to contain coronavirus

Ram Madhav also defended the government’s policy in easing the nationwide lockdown imposed to limit the spread of the coronavirus. He admitted that there had been a rise in cases since the lockdown was eased, but said this was the case only in certain parts of the country. Madhav also asserted that during the first four weeks starting March 25, when the lockdown was in full force, the number of cases had been well contained.

Asked whether India had relaxed the lockdown too soon, as there seemed to be no “flattening of the curve” according to some economists, Madhav said some restrictions were still in place. The BJP leader admitted that when the first lockdown was imposed, India was not well prepared with its healthcare facilities to handle the crisis.

Asked about the plight of migrant workers who walked thousands of kilometres to reach their hometowns, Madhav said: “India has 130 million migrant workers. Of these, 80 million work in other states than their home states. It is bigger than the population of countries like Germany, UK...Out of them, majority...nearly 90%, still stick to their places, they have not undertaken the perilous journey.”

‘Party does not support statements against Muslims’

The BJP leader said his party does not support statements made by some of its members blaming Muslims for the spread of the novel coronavirus. Asked about BJP leader Kapil Mishra’s statement calling Muslims “coronavirus terrorists”, Madhav said: “All such statements are wrong. We have condemned those statements. We have warned such functionaries...”

However, Madhav added that criticising the Tablighi Jamaat, an orthodox Islamic sect, did not mean attacking the entire Muslim community in India. He said a large section of Muslims in India do not approve of how the Tablighi Jamaat members have conducted themselves during the pandemic.

Many early cases of Covid-19 were linked to a Tablighi Jamaat congregation held in New Delhi in March. Following the congregation, members of the sect had travelled to various parts of the country, with several later testing positive for the virus.

The BJP leader also condemned an attack by his party’s activists on two Muslims who volunteered to distribute food and medical aid in Karnataka. “Certainly any such act of violence will be punished. In this case our state unit, if what you are saying is true, will take action.” But he added that many doctors, nurses and police personnel have also been viciously attacked in India, and that the law and order system in India is robust enough to handle these cases.