Rival religious extremists survive by feeding off each other. In India, Hindutva and Islamist leaders and activists have often mobilised men and materials through inflammatory hate speeches. But by any yardstick, the recent rabble-rousing speech of Akbaruddin Owaisi, leader of the Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly, plumbs new depths. In substance, his speech was a clear attempt to promote enmity between Hindus and Muslims, and disrupt the fragile peace in tension-filled Hyderabad to the political benefit of himself and his party. Now that the courts have directed the police to register a criminal case, the judiciary will have the final word on the legality of his vicious remarks. One thing is certain, however. Civil society needs to make it clear that those who incite hatred and violence against people on the basis of their religion or any other identity ought to be punished one way or another. If the police or courts won’t prosecute, convict and send them to jail, such would-be ‘leaders’ must be boycotted socially and politically.
In his rant, Mr. Owaisi used a clever trick: he first attacked the Hindutva outfits and leaders for their actions, and then proceeded to equate all Hindus with these extremist elements. This was akin to the Hindutva extremist line of holding the whole Muslim community responsible for Islamist terror. The threat of physical violence implicit in his speech attracts Section 153-A of the Indian Penal Code. To the discredit of the MIM, other leaders, most notably the party’s Member of Parliament Asaduddin Owaisi, Akbaruddin’s elder brother, have not uttered a word of reproach against this hate speech. However, Mr. Owaisi is not the first person to thumb his nose at the laws of the land through hate-filled, incendiary utterances. VHP leader Praveen Togadia, the late Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray, and BJP leader Varun Gandhi are prominent among the many in the Hindutva parivar to have made hate speeches. Of these, the case against Mr. Gandhi is proceeding slowly; otherwise, as in Hyderabad, where the police acted only after the courts received private complaints, the law enforcing authorities prefer not to touch these extremists citing, as an excuse, the threat that their organisations will unleash violence in the event of an arrest. In effect, the law in India is often reduced to a political tool that is applied selectively. Police inaction in previous cases is, however, no reason to be lenient in the present instance. Mr. Owaisi has crossed the line with the pure poison he served up. India, Andhra Pradesh and Hyderabad cannot afford a spiral of incitements to violence. He must be made an example of.