'Alia-Malia-Jamalia': Amit Shah takes poll-bound Gujarat back to 2002
Dog-whistle communal politics seems to be a key element to Amit Shah's success as an election manager. This was particularly evident in Uttar Pradesh, both in the run-up to the Assembly elections earlier this year as well as the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Shah now appears to be repeating the same strategy in his home state Gujarat. Addressing a meeting of party workers in Surat on Friday, Amit Shah said, "Ever since Narendra Modi formed a government, no Alia-Malia-Jamalia dared to carry out communal riots in Gujarat."
It is clear 'Alia-Malia-Jamalia' was a reference to Muslims.
This is not the first time that Shah has used this phrase. In November 2016 he used the same phrase while speaking at a rally in Maharajganj in Uttar Pradesh.
"During the Sonia-Manmohan government of the Congress, Alia-Malia-Jamalia used to cross the border and insult our soldiers. Meanwhile, Delhi remained oblivious to it," he had said.
Here the phrase was used to refer to Pakistanis. This also shows that Shah uses the same derogatory phrase for Pakistanis and Indian Muslims, a comparison that is lapped up by the BJP's core support base.
Interestingly, Narendra Modi used this phrase frequently during the 2002 election campaign, which took place a few months after the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat.
"Beginning with his warnings to the 'aliya-maliya-jamaliya; right from Modasa in Sabarkantha district to Dahod, by the end of Saturday, Modi had emphasised on the 'settling of scores' and celebrated the 'Hindu' as the ultimate hero," says a Times of India report from October 2002.
By most accounts, Modi led a highly polarising campaign and his target wasn't just the Muslim community, it also involved invoking the Christian identity of the then Chief Election Commissioner JM Lyngdoh.
Shah's speech in Surat was no different as he constantly invoked communal insecurities.
He said that when Congress was in power in Gujarat, riots were taking place everywhere.
"If you had to take out a Rath Yatra in Ahmedabad, your heart would be in your mouth," he said.
"I am from Ahmedabad. We had to call to find out if it was safe to come out," he emphasised.
That he chose to raise the communal spectre in Surat is not surprising as it is a city that has witnessed the most intense protests by traders after the introduction of Goods and Services Tax (GST) last week.
There is resentment among traders against the BJP and observers say that playing the communal card might be the only method to divert their anger.
Shah's dog-whistle communalism
This form of dog-whistle communalism seems a key part of Modi and Shah's modus operandi. While Modi played the communal card to the hilt during the 2002 polls, he did it in more discreet ways during the 2007 and 2012 elections.
While in 2007 he raked up "Miyan Musharraf", in 2012 he invoked Congress leader Ahmed Patel's Muslim identity by calling him "Ahmed Miyan Patel".
Shah used the same tricks in Uttar Pradesh in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the 2017 Assembly elections.
A video of Shah went viral before the 2014 polls, in which he could be heard saying "In Western Uttar Pradesh, this is a election to avenge insults". The "revenge" reference seemed to have been towards the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots.
Addressing a rally in Saharanpur last year, a few months before the Assembly elections, Shah made similar remarks.
Attacking the then CM Akhilesh Yadav he said, "Under your rule, what will happen to Afzal Ansari, what will you do about Ateeq Ahmed, about Azam Khan? The entire SP is full of Ateeqs, Azams, Afzals and Mukhtars".
The cherry-picking of Muslim names was deliberate. The argument that these were references to criminals didn't hold water as neither Azam Khan nor Nasemuddin Siddiqui is known as a criminal politician.
So be it Alia-Malia-Jamalia or Ateeq-Azam-Afzal, Amit Shah is an expert at playing the communal card not openly but by using codes understood by everyone.
If the Surat rally is any indication, Gujarat is in for a polarising election.