New Gujarat? Dalits & Patidars are leading charge against anti-Muslim propaganda
The intense campaign for the Gujarat Assembly elections has taken a sinister turn, with a sudden proliferation of anti-Muslim messages on WhatsApp.
While the source of the messages is not known, it is clear who will benefit politically if the efforts at communal polarisation succeed.
Observers say that while these messages have started doing the rounds on social media, mainly on WhatsApp, this drive is also accompanied by a strong whisper campaign propagating Islamophobia.
People have been telling this reporter how common people in Ahmedabad and other cities are being told not to vote for any other dispensation other than the ruling one if they want 'peace and development'.
“With the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) saddled with an anti-incumbency of more than two decades and the economy taking a major hit because of demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax (GST), it is certain that the repeat of an electoral victory is an uphill task this time. Hence, fringe elements claiming to represent little-known Hindu organisations at the local level have started this campaign,” points out a senior media person based in Ahmedabad.
“Common Hindu voters are being told to remember the days of pre-1995 era when the BJP was not in power. They are being told of the frequent rioting and law and order problems that used to take place. The fact that no riot reached the equivalent of 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom and subsequent communal and caste flare ups that have continued to take place are never mentioned,” the journalist adds.
It must be remembered that BJP president Amit Shah had made a similar comment in July. Addressing a public meeting in Surat, Shah 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. It is perhaps no coincidence that Shah chose to make these remarks in Surat, a city where there is widespread anger against the implementation of GST.
There are also fears that violence may erupt as anonymous messages and slogans telling Hindus to “stock up arms” are doing the rounds.
“The walls in the city remain dotted with the slogans on 'Love Jihad' and calling for Hindus to store arms for the last few months. There have been instances to show buffalo carcass as that of a cow in Hindu dominated areas in Ahmedabad and also Anand. People are also being warned of the return of 'Rule of Quran'. It is clear that all this is aimed at polarising the society on communal lines,” says a senior media person and a political observer in Ahmedabad.
The fact of the matter is that these issues go under-reported or unreported at the local level and often the authorities turn a blind eye to them for whatever reasons.
“Messages that are high on communal content have increased after the 'Vikas gando thayo chhe' (Vikas has gone berserk) campaign on the social media put the BJP and its government on the back foot. This took out the burst the balloon of their much hyped 'Number one Gujarat model of development. The fact that the people are not ready to buy the narrative on development any longer has put a big question mark over the BJP's claims of winning the polls with 150 plus seats. Hence, certain elements are playing the Hindutva card,” points out social activist Waqar Qazi.
This reporter examined some of these messages and found that they are full of vitriolic communal content. One of these messages talks about the alleged vandalising of a temple and thrashing of a priest in Bashirhat in West Bengal. It conveys to the recipients that such incidents will take place if Muslims grow in numbers in their areas. There is also a video of a temple being vandalized that is being circulated.
It needs to be pointed that the BJP under Narendra Modi had won the 2002 Assembly elections, riding high on a communal plank following the Gujarat pogrom.
Counter hate campaign
But unlike earlier, a strong counter-campaign is also underway urging the masses notthat a counter campaign is also on that is asking the masses not to pay heed to such rumours and vitriolic messages.
“The most positive aspect of this campaign is that besides a number of social activists, a very large number of Dalits and Patidar youths are also participating in it. The coming together of these groups to run a campaign on maintaining peace and not paying any attention to the messages being spread by hate mongers, is a very good sign,” points out Qazi.
He disclosed that apart from the effort to pit Hindus against Muslims, the hate machinery that is active on social media is also trying to pit one caste against the other. “For example there is an effort to pit Other Backward Castes (OBCs), Rabbaris and Bharwads against Patidars and Dalits against Patidars. But every effort is being made by leaders of these communities to ensure peace and prevent the masses from getting carried away by the hate content of these messages,” he added.
These messages are warning the recipients about the kinds of hate messages and rumours that they are likely to receive in the coming days. They are signed with the slogan 'Jai Samvidhan' (Hail the Constitution of India) along with the request to share them further.
It is pertinent to mention that in most of the communal riots that have been reported from the state, including the one in 2002, it is the Dalits and Muslims who have suffered the most. These are the communities who have been living side-by-side sharing common socio- economic problems and having a common lifestyle.
Observers say that incendiary content on social media is only likely to increase in the days to come. It is for the people to show wisdom and resilience.