A new raucous has started in the Indian political arena since ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) South Delhi’s member of the Parliament (MP) Ramesh Bidhuri used Islamophobic slurs to abuse Amroha’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MP Danish Ali in the new Parliament building. Bidhuri’s anti-Muslim slurs targeting Ali, where he called the latter “Mullah”, “Katwa” and “Atankwadi” were reportedly expunged from the Parliament’s records, but the speech itself went viral on social media.
On the one hand, the opposition has been protesting Bidhuri’s anti-Muslim slurs, while on the other hand, the BJP is trying to capitalise on this incident to gain political mileage in the upcoming assembly and Lok Sabha elections. Apart from condemning Bidhuri’s anti-Muslim remarks with a tepid response, the BJP neither reprimanded him nor took any legal action against him as well.
Rather, the BJP has made Bidhuri the in-charge of the Tonk constituency of Rajasthan for the forthcoming assembly polls, where the Congress party’s Sachin Pilot may contest the polls. This appears as a reward for Bidhuri’s anti-Muslim slurs against BSP’s Ali.
The Opposition alleged that what Bidhuri, a controversial MP, had done by coming to the new Parliament building had damaged parliamentary dignity. According to many, no matter how much the BJP condemns Bidhuri’s activity, it is because of the Islamophobia that exists within the saffron party that the MP has been able to speak indecent words to Ali with sheer impunity. But the equation isn’t so simple.
Although Ali was shocked, such attacks are not new in the lives of most Muslims living in India. Several leaders of the BJP and other saffron organisations affiliated with its parent body Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have been accused of using Islamophobic tirades to titilate their boisterous Hindutva fascism-incensed supporters. Calling Muslims “terrorists” or other derogatory terms like “Katwa” (excommunicated or ostracised but is lately used to refer to circumcision) are quite common these days.
Moreover, the Muslim community has been living under a perennial threat throughout the tenure of the present dispensation, which has been on a journey to disempower and socio-economically marginalise the largest minority bloc. The Hindutva camp’s regular vitriolic jibe against the Muslims is normalised to such an extent that new occurrences aren’t considered newsworthy anymore.
Has the prime minister’s patronage emboldened the perpetrators?
It’s alleged that under the patronage of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP has been bolstered to unapologetically pursue its Hindutva fascist agenda and vilify Muslims under various pretexts. It’s alleged by the Opposition that by remaining conspicuously silent on the issues related to the persecution of minorities by those affiliated with the RSS-led Hindutva camp, the prime minister has emboldened such forces. Modi, an RSS cadre himself, also has a similar tainted background.
Zakia Jafri, the widow of former Congress party MP Ehsan Jafri who was killed during the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat, alleged that when their society was surrounded by saffron-clad goons, her husband called Modi, who was the then Gujarat chief minister, pleading with him to save the lives of the Muslims. On getting his call, Modi allegedly abused Jafri using Islamophobic slurs and said he was surprised that the former MP wasn’t dead by then.
Although Ms Jafri continues to fight for justice, which has been elusive in the last two decades, the impunity with which men like Bidhuri use the Parliament and other public forums to hurl Islamophobic slurs exhibits that they have the support of those at the top. Thus, Bidhuri’s anti-Muslim slurs against Ali are merely expunged from the Parliament’s records and unlike Opposition MPs, who are often randomly suspended from the Parliament for minor issues, he won’t face the repercussions.
Bidhuri’s anti-Muslim slurs are a manifestation of BJP’s Islamophobia
Bidhuri’s anti-Muslim slurs targeting the BSP MP are not an isolated incident. Leaders and activists of other RSS-affiliated organisations have been hurling abuses laced with visceral hatred against Muslims for a long time. Over the past eight years, scores of Muslims have lost their lives in attacks by RSS-affiliated organisations in various BJP-ruled states.
There have been repeated attacks on Muslims in the name of celebrating various North Indian Hindu festivals, under the guise of cow protection and even on the suspicion of spreading Covid-19. Even the capital New Delhi was not left out, where over 50 people were officially killed in the horrific anti-Muslim pogrom of 2020.
Nupur Sharma case
During a television debate in 2022, BJP leader Nupur Sharma abused Prophet Mohammad, who is considered a holy man by Muslims globally. Her blatant Islamophobic comments shocked Muslims in India and abroad. Although Muslims in India and abroad are not very vocal about the brutal state-sponsored persecution of Indian Muslims since 2015, the incident of disrespecting the Prophet raised a bogey against the dispensation due to the utmost religious sensitivity Muslims attach to their holy figure.
The BJP was taken aback when it found a massive outrage against Sharma’s comment coming from the Middle East, where the Modi government has been trying to strengthen diplomatic ties on behalf of the US-led West to contain China’s growing influence. Although the Modi government didn’t take any legal action against Sharma for allegedly insulting the religious beliefs of the Muslim community, she was suspended from the party.
However, the suspension failed to dent Sharma’s political reputation. She received immense support from Hindutva extremist organisations for her vile comments. Sharma was lauded as a “courageous” Hindu by the Hindutva camp and her fame helped her political career in more ways than one.
BJP MP Parvesh Verma
Following Sharma’s incident, BJP MP Parvesh Verma, son of the late Delhi BJP leader Sahib Singh Verma, attended a meeting of the RSS-affiliated Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) at Dilshad Garden in October 2022. The VHP was reportedly protesting the murder of a young man of the Hindu community. As the accused happened to be a Muslim, the VHP tried to add a communal tinge to the murder and Verma joined them in this campaign.
In that meeting, Verma called upon the Hindu community to boycott the Muslims socio-economically. Despite such communal comments, which promote enmity between different communities in India, an offence punishable under Indian criminal laws, Verma was not charged or prosecuted. The BJP didn’t take any action against Verma, exhibiting its approval of his words. Verma remains an asset to the BJP till date.
But this was not the first manifestation of Islamophobia in Verma’s life. Earlier in 2020, he mocked the stance of Muslims against the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA 2019) in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh and other areas, calling “Desh ke gaddaro ko, goli maro salo ko” (shoot the traitors of the country), which was veiled threat to the Muslims.
Anurag Thakur, a BJP MP and a Union minister, who hails from a wealthy family in Himachal Pradesh, joined Verma in this tirade. He also repeatedly raised the same slogan and tried to woo the Hindus before the 2020 Delhi Assembly elections. These two legendary Muslim-hating MPs became instant ‘heroes’ for the BJP.
Other BJP leaders and MPs
Other ‘star’ BJP lawmakers have also made anti-Muslim, anti-Islamic comments. Although they didn’t do anything like Bidhuri’s anti-Muslim slurs inside the Parliament building, their vitriol is no way less toxic than Bidhuri’s. Several BJP MPs had gained fame by using Islamophobia as their stepping stone to success within the Hindutva fascist framework.
A BJP MP named Sakshi Maharaj has been at the peak of fame for his perpetual anti-Muslim remarks. Sometimes he targeted Muslims accusing them of cow slaughter and sometimes for population growth. A case was also filed against Sakshi by the then Samajwadi Party government for his anti-Islamic comments before the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.
Yogi Adityanath, the current chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, not only made anti-Islamic remarks when he was the MP from Gorakhpur but he also allegedly led a large-scale anti-Muslim communal violence in his constituency during the Congress party’s rule. The Opposition alleged that it was for this role that he was made the chief minister of India’s most populous state.
Pragya Thakur alias Sadhvi Pragya was accused in a case of serial bombings done by Hindutva terrorists. Soon after Modi came to power the National Investigation Agency (NIA) diluted the charges against her. Soon she was nominated for the general elections in 2019.
She reportedly glorified Mohandas Gandhi’s killer Nathuram Godse during her campaign. Although Modi criticised her while remaining remarkably equanimous, didn’t take any action against her when she was elected. Rather, her status as an MP has been used to efface all traces of her ignominious past from the public memory.
Bidhuri’s anti-Muslim slurs: Is it the end or the beginning of a new phase of Islamophobia?
The tenure of the 17th Lok Sabha is nearing its end. General elections will be held again in 2024. It’d be quite unsurprising to see that the BJP may renominate those who have been found peddling Islamophobia.
Due to the nationwide rising unemployment, skyrocketing inflation, especially in food and fuel, the dilapidated state of public health and education sectors and the mounting debts of the government, the BJP has no other way to win elections other than using its quintessential religious polarisation strategy.
Also, since several opposition parties have formed the Indian National Development Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), the anti-BJP vote may not be divided in several states. As a result, it will be difficult for the BJP to retain the seats it won in 2019 unless it repeats the religious polarisation exercise with intense Islamophobic propaganda.
As most of the member parties of the INDIA bloc have agreed on carrying out a caste census, the BJP is in dire straits. Because this could break the BJP’s other backward castes (OBC) vote bank. And this OBC vote bank is important for the BJP; so to protect it, the BJP has to ramp up Hindutva fascist propaganda repeatedly. As a result, exercises like Bidhuri’s anti-Muslim slurs in the Parliament can be effective in catapulting the saffron outfit out of trouble.
Incidentally, Modi had repeatedly advocated for the BJP to reach out to the Pasmanda or Dalit and OBC Muslims to break the Muslim vote bank. In this case, Bidhuri’s anti-Muslim slurs aimed at a Pasmanda Muslim MP can spoil the plan. But if the BJP can trap the OBC vote bank, then even if the Muslim vote goes against it, the saffron camp will not suffer as 14% Muslim votes won’t influence the overall election results.
Thus, in the run-up to the general elections in 2024, incidents like Bidhuri’s anti-Muslim slurs in the Parliament will not decrease in any way, but for the sake of titillating its hardcore Hindutva fascism-incensed vote bank, the BJP will have to condone such behaviour, which may cause more misery for the marginalised Indian Muslims in the near future.
An avid reader and a merciless political analyst. When not writing then either reading something, debating something or sipping espresso with a dash of cream. Street photographer. Tweets as @la_muckraker