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Divide & (try to) rule: Poll announcements lead to spurt in circulation of communal messages

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 27 October 2017, 17:47 IST
(Arya Sharma/Catch News)

The supporters of the Hindutva ideology are back to their games in Gujarat. Since the poll schedule for the state was announced a couple of days ago, right-wing elements have been trying to bombard social media with vitriolic communal content. This is yet another attempt to polarise voters on communal lines, but, it doesn't seem to be working till now.

In places like the remote corners of Kutch, these communal messages are doing the rounds. One of the messages being circulated is that if the Congress manages to win the forthcoming Assembly polls, Gujarat would get its first Muslim chief minister in none other than Congress President Sonia Gandhi's political advisor, Ahmed Patel. Interestingly BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said during a TV debate this week, "Make Ahmed Bhaijaan CM", indicating that this propaganda may have the party's sanction.

Observers point out that Ahmed Patel's recent victory, though by a slender margin in the recent Rajya Sabha polls, has not gone down well with the Hindutva lobby. Those affiliated with various Hindutva groups and organisations were expecting that the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) National President Amit Shah will succeed in defeating Ahmed Patel through various maneuvers that the party had adopted – but this was not to be.

These messages have further been warning recipients that the Congress rule would spell a return to the era of curfews and riots where instances like Godhra train burning would become the norm.

Sources say that there are many more messages with much higher vitriolic content being circulated in the state.

'It's on video!'

Another strategy that is being adopted by those circulating these messages is to make use of videos from other states and use them out of context to play up the communal divide.

This reporter was shocked to find a video of a clash between a Sikh group and a group of non-Sikhs in Punjab over some trivial matter being circulated as a clash between Sikhs and Muslims where the latter are allegedly being attacked by the Sikhs for raising anti-India slogans.

These elements are also circulating anti-India propaganda used by militants in Kashmir which include songs with anti-India lyrics. This is to further hype the anti-Muslim sentiment among the people of the poll-bound state.

Observers point to the highly irresponsible statements coming from BJP leaders, like the Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel, which further encourage fringe elements to communalise the atmosphere in the state.

They have been referring to a reported statement made by Nitin Patel where he said that the Congress could even go to the extents of inviting terrorists like Hafiz Saeed if the party feels that this can help it form the government in Gujarat.

Patel's comments had come in the wake of Other Backward Castes (OBC) leader Alpesh Thakor joining the Congress at a rally attended by party Vice President Rahul Gandhi and the Congress inviting Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani along wit Patidar leader Hardik Patel to join its front against the BJP.

Well, this is not new...

BJP leaders are known to have used communal diatribe to polarise the voters during the previous polls. People in Gujarat still remember Prime Minister Narendra Modi's speeches that always had references to 'Miyan Musharraf' (Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf) and the apprehension that there would be fireworks in the neighbouring country if the BJP lost in Gujarat. He had also used the Sohrabuddin encounter to garner votes for the BJP in the 2007 polls.

More recently it was Amit Shah who had made a similar comment in July in Surat when he had said – “After the BJP came to power, no Alia-Malia-Jamalia dared to carry out communal riots in Gujarat.”

This clearly was a barb at the Muslim community and perhaps no coincidence that he chose to make these remarks in the city that saw the maximum outburst of anger against both demonetisation and the implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST).

But the locals feel that this time around, the efforts at communal polarisation have not been getting the desired results, at least till now.

“These messages are mainly being circulated on WhatsApp or other groups. These are groups of friends, colleagues and even family members. These messages have been one-sided targeting the Muslims and the Congress,” disclosed a political observer belonging to Unjha in north Gujarat who is presently residing in Ahmedabad.

“But the interesting aspect is that such messages are being discouraged by the administrators of many of these groups. The senders are politely being told not to post 'political' content on these groups. This is a subtle way of making the point that communal messages are not acceptable,” he pointed out.

Many people feel that fringe elements circulating messages with high communal content can also be a part of a strategy to instigate rival groups to come out with an equally vitriolic communal counter-attack and then play it up to further increase the polarisation.

Social activists meanwhile are continuing with their efforts asking the masses not to pay any attention to communal messages. In fact, there is a counter campaign visible in certain sections urging people to talk about real issues like – the failing economy, human development index and unemployment whenever there is an insistence by elements to discuss Gujarat politics.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 27 October 2017, 17:47 IST