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Mainstream, VOL LX No 15, New Delhi, April 2, 2022

Who will be hurt more by Sanghi anti-Muslim tirade? | Faraz Ahmad

Friday 1 April 2022, by Faraz Ahmad

The Speaker of Karnataka Assembly announced from the Chair the other day, “Our RSS”. A minister taking the cue mocked the Congress leader saying it will soon be your RSS. Another minister of the BJP government in the state stood up to declare, the day is not far when every Muslim and Christian in the country will join the RSS. Is it an invitation, or a threat? Difficult to say.

The defeat of secular democratic forces in the just concluded elections to five state assemblies has emboldened the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)’s political wing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ruling over two thirds of the country now to shout from the rooftops their absolute conquest not just of the government in most states, but over the minds and thinking of demoralised anti-BJP forces.

After several years this Holi on March 18 was marked by targeted anti-Muslim violence in many places, even those like Allahabad, with the lynching death of a Muslim youth by Holi revellers taking out motorcycle processions from Muslim majority areas, raising provocative slogans, announcing with a glee of their return to power for not just next five years, but we don’t know how long.

Immediately after former Congress leader Himanta Biswa Sarma assumed the BJP leadership and now even promoted as the chief minister post 2021 assembly polls, he outdid his predecessor Sarbananda Sonowal the former BJP chief minister in targeting poor Muslims settled on abandoned lands, their madrasas, their eating habits, never mind if this affected the neigbouring Meghalaya and Mizoram. After all they are also our comrades, having joined the Parivar, surreptitiously at least. How? Biswa had set upon Cow vigilantes on hapless Muslims seen with cows as in the rest of India but would allow these cows to be transported to Meghalaya and Mizoram to be slaughtered and relished because their chief ministers are comrades in arms. Remember, former Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha stated on the floor of the House while speaking on the confidence motion of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s 13-day government in 1996 that, while he loved and respected Vajpayee and would have been happy to see him as the country’s Prime Minister, he would not vote the BJP to power because he feared it may deprive the people of north east of beef which is their staple diet.

Towards the last round of month long polling in Uttar Pradesh ending March 7, not just the people and objective analysts were convinced of BJP defeat in UP but bureaucrats had started showing signs of exasperation with the BJP and literally started changing colours at least of their name plates from saffron to green, which they hurriedly changed back to saffron the moment they realised they had under estimated BJP’s ability to out manoeuvre their political opponents through all kinds of devious means with the open connivance of a section of “committed bureaucracy and election officers”, replacing EVM machines.

In the good old days of ballot papers, if the Election Commission received any complaints of irregularity at any polling booth like capture of booth or stuffing the ballot boxes with self-stamped ballot papers by one party, it would immediately despatch poll observers to verify the complaint and order a repoll. For this reason the Election Commission would keep a gap of two-three days between polls of one or second round. Now the polls are held for a full month. Complaints of people’s names being struck off in areas where the BJP prospects were presumed bad, poured in; people showed their fingers with indelible inks before the polling day alleging that BJP men came, forcibly marked their fingers with indelible ink and also gave them some money asking them not to go and vote. No action. Have we seen any repoll being ordered anywhere in Modi/EVM era? Not to my mind.

The Election Commission did note the complaint of strong rooms being broken in, EVMs being transported out of strong rooms and even thrown in the drains, suspended some petty officials, but that’s it. Nothing more. If after due investigations the complaints were found false, the complainants ought to have been booked and prosecuted. Otherwise hold repolls in affected polling booths under the watchful eyes of the EC observers and Election agents. Nothing happened. Why? Because it had already been decided to put Yogi Adityanath back in the saddle.

It’s not just EVM, it is the capture of the entire range of institutions meant to safeguard our democratic rights. The results of the five assemblies elections came on the 10th of March and on the 15th the much awaited judgement of Karnataka High Court came upholding the Karnataka governments’ order banning the entry of hijab wearing girls in to schools and colleges all over the state. In effect upholding the denial of school/ college education to scarf wearing girls. Noted jurists have questioned the legal strength of the judgement delivered by a three-judge bench led by chief justice Ritu Raj Awasthi.

The row over hijab started in Karnataka in the peak of election campaign in five states and soon thereafter the affected students appealed to the High Court which first issued a stay order strengthening the state government diktat and on the fifth day of the election results delivered its judgement. The girls have to appear for the exams commencing March 28. So they immediately approached the Supreme Court citing urgency of the matter to meet the exam schedule, lest the girls missed appearing for their exams. The Supreme Court first deferred the matter to “after Holi” and on March 24, the Chief Justice of India N.V.Ramana virtually rebuked the petitioners saying “no link to exams…don’t sensationalise the matter”. Now the girls asserting their constitutional right to freedom of apparel choice and religion have to either go back with heads bent or sit home and bid good bye to further studies, forgetting about constitutional guarantees.

The same day an Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat, after first repeatedly postponing the order on Umar Khalid’s bail petition finally rejected it. While rejecting the bail plea of the JNU research scholar and left activist, who has been in jail under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for close to two years, has upheld the Government of India’s charge of Khalid being involved in the conspiracy to create “Delhi riots” a misnomer for the concerted violent attack on Muslim women and men in North East Delhi who held peaceful dharnas against the Government’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in February, 2020 for pointedly keeping out Muslims from its purview. These same courts have witnessed on record how the Delhi Police personnel beat young Muslim boys to death forcing them to shout Jai Shri Ram, sing Vande Matram and the national anthem. But the Police and prosecution have, from the beginning been dilly dallying any action against those accused of attack or instigating attack on those holding peaceful agitation while two judges who took the police to task for its apparent partisanship have been transferred out, first Justice S. Muralidhar and considerably later Justice Vinod Yadav.

Returning to the issue of Umar Khalid, the learned judge agreeing with the Defence counsel that there are “inconsistencies in the statements of some of the protected witnesses” but added that a finding has to be given on the cumulative reading of statements of all witnesses and other events presented in the chargesheet”. Defence Counsel Trideep Pais had argued that witnesses had made cooked-up statements and that “a case can’t be made on half-truths.”

Judge Rawat however held that from a ”broad reading” of all the statements recorded “the role of the accused Umar Khalid in the context of conspiracy and riots is apparent.” The judge while upholding prosecution case of Khalid being involved in the North-East attack on poor Muslim women, which the Police and the prosecution wrongly call Delhi riots, again while conceding that Khalid was not present in North East Delhi on those February, 2020 dates, held that in “case of conspiracy it is not necessary that every accused should be present on the spot.”

Upholding the prosecution contention, the learned judge observed that it is “also important to highlight that in a conspiracy, various continuous acts are committed by different accused persons. One act cannot be read in isolation. At times, if read by itself, a particular act or an activity may appear innocuous, but if it is a part of a chain of events constituting a conspiracy, then all the events must be read together.”

The Judge also conceded the Defence argument that it is ”their fundamental right to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)-National Register for Citizens(NRC)” and said, “There is no gainsaying the sacrosanct fundamental right of speech and free expression subject to public order available to every citizen of this country including the accused, as enunciated in Article 19 of the Constitution of India.”

Yati Narsinghanand, the Dasna priest who organised a “Dharam Sansad” in Haridwar in the runup to the UP and Uttarakhand assembly elections presumably to communally influence those state elections through his hate speech calling upon Hindus to arm themselves to kill Muslims and submitted a memo to this effect to the district police chief in Haridwar in January was eventually arrested after considerable delay on January 15 but enlarged on bail by the Additional District and Sessions Judge Bharat Bhushan Pandey barely a month later as the court noted his offences. In his speech at the event, he had said that “arming the Hindu brigade with bigger and better weapons” would be the “solution” against the “threat of Muslims.”

On March 25 Justice Chandra Dhari Singh of Delhi High Court observed that if something is said with a smile, then there is no criminality but if something is said offensively, then there may be criminality. The single judge bench of Justice Singh made this observation while hearing a petition by CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat seeking criminal action against Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur and BJP MP Parvesh Verma for making hate speeches against Muslim women who sat on a dharna in different parts of Delhi in December, 2019-February, 2020 protesting the CAA.

Justice Singh said this while reserving the court verdict in this case.

Ashish Mishra, the son of Union Minister of State for Home in Modi’s cabinet, Teni Maharaj from Lakhimpur Kheri, accused of committing mass murders of half a dozen farmers by running over his jeep on the farmers returning from a demonstration against farm laws was eventually arrested after much dilly dallying by the UP Police in the midst of elections. But soon enough Allahabad High Court released him on bail. The victims’ families immediately approached the Supreme Court. The matter is still pending.

Now see the other side. While former Home Minister of Maharashtra Anil Deshmukh was jailed on charges of corruption levelled by former Mumbai Police Commissioner Parambir Singh, with evident political leanings towards the ruling party at the Centre, himself facing serious charges of corruption and who has admitted in his written statement that he had no first hand information on the allegations he made against Deshmukh. On the basis of Parambir Singh’s allegations Anil Deshmukh was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate in November last and has been in jail for last six months. Repeatedly denied bail, Parambir Singh absconded from duty for as many months. He finally appeared before the Maharashtra government after securing anticipatory bail from courts. But he doesn’t want to face the probe by his state government, which is his employer and the apex court facilitated him by unilaterally transferring his case to the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) under the Central Government whom the same court had described not so long ago a “caged parrot” under a different government.

Similarly in the Birbhum incident in West Bengal, the Calcutta High Court on the plea of BJP leaders took no time to direct the state police to stop probe and hand over the investigations to the CBI. By the way there is not even a communal angle to it. Though the BJP leader told a press conference that the victims were Hindus burnt to death by Muslim Trinamul Congress supporters, the victims too are Muslims and whoever did it needs to be punished.

Now our learned judges are well aware that Law and Order is a state subject and in our Federal system it is the prerogative of the state government to decide if it will probe a matter or invite the CBI to investigate. Unless of course the case is very sensitive like the allegations of criminal offences and conspiracies against Narendra Modi and Amit Shah when they were the Chief Minister and Home Minister respectively of Gujarat.

It is getting to be three years since the Centre with one stroke of pen struck down Article 370 of the Constitution and turned the state into a Union Territory, a clear travesty of justice. But the Supreme Court is still sitting on the case. Is the issue so small and inconsequential that the Supreme Court can easily avoid deliberating the matter?

Lord Chief Justice of England Lord Hewart stated in a case of Rx vs Sussex Justices, 1924: “Justice must not just be done but seen to have been done.” Are our courts passing this test? But what to talk of courts alone. Which institution during this eight-year rule of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his colleagues can pass this test of fairness and objectivity?

The BJP is winning election after election, by hook or crook and by targeting Muslims. The latest one circulating on digital media is most disturbing. It says “Kisi bhi mulle se phal, sabzi mat khareedo (Don’t buy fruits and vegetables from any Mulla (Muslim) vendor; don’t get your clothes stitched from Muslim tailor, or get a hair cut from a Muslim barber; don’t travel in a rickshaw, auto rickshaw or taxi driven by a Muslim. Boycott movies in which there are Muslim artistes.

It’s a long list and in fact has appealed to its group members to add more and more names and companies as they proceed. For instance they have directed Hindus not to drink Rooh Afza this summer because it is produced by ‘Hamza’ company. Instead go for Ramdev’s Patanjali product. From calling for obstructing scarf wearing girls attendance in schools and colleges of Karnataka to demanding a socio-economic annihilation of Muslims, to a war cry to capture Kashmiri Muslim girls, impregnate them and increase Hindu population in Kashmir, every possible means is being propagated in this system to isolate and provoke Muslims to act in desperation and then lbel the entire Muslim population as terrorist to justify their action before secular Hindus in India and the international community concerned about Islamophobia, that Muslims as a community are terrorists by their Islamic upbringing while stating at world platforms how India is a secular constitutional democracy.

In the end though who suffers more? Majority of Muslims living in those urban ghettos are anyway living below poverty line. But they are needed for every day odd jobs at home and in different work places for professional work, be that of a mason, or mistri orbeldar or mechanic or driver or tailor or barber. By targeting them you are in fact destroying your economy, which anyway is in doldrums. The choice lies with the people who vote the BJP every successive election, whether they want India to grow and prosper or to go down the same hill as the neighbouring Pakistan after Ziaul Haq’s Islamisation of 1977-88.

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