Politics of polarisation

Published - September 12, 2014 12:57 am IST

Impending elections invariably colour a government’s actions. Whether the filing of a charge sheet for hate speech against Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah just two days before by-elections to 11 Assembly seats and one Lok Sabha seat in Uttar Pradesh is politically motivated, is a moot question. The charge sheet against Mr. Shah was returned by the court, lending greater force to the BJP’s allegation that the entire exercise was a desperate measure by the Akhilesh Yadav government in the face of a likely defeat for the ruling Samajwadi Party in the by-elections. However, the questions raised by the case against Mr. Shah go far beyond the concerns of the immediate elections and relate to issues of freedom of speech, incitement of violence, religious sensibilities and corrupt practices. Mr. Shah, during the Lok Sabha election campaign in April, called for avenging the Muzaffarnagar communal riots, prompting the Election Commission to initially ban him from campaigning. The BJP insists this was not incitement to violence, but only an appeal to avenge the riots through the ballot box. Even on this interpretation, Mr. Shah’s call for avenging the riots implied that a vote for the BJP would be an act of revenge for the Hindu victims of the communal riots. Whether the sections of the IPC invoked in the charge sheet relating to promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings, and false statements circulated with intent to cause offence against public peace, would stand judicial scrutiny remains to be seen, but Mr. Shah clearly crossed the lines of political propriety during the campaign. The BJP leader seemed quite close to attracting the provision of the Representation of the People Act that defines an appeal to vote for any person on the ground of religion as a corrupt practice.

The Election Commission rightly rescinded its ban on Mr. Shah following an apology but, not surprisingly, the case seems to have got a second wind now with another rise in the political temperature in Uttar Pradesh. If the Samajwadi Party government has timed the charge sheet to coincide with the by-elections, then the BJP is surely encouraging its Member of Parliament Yogi Adityanath to make provocative statements that could make Mr. Shah uncomfortable. Despite the district administration cancelling permission for his meeting, Mr. Adityanath went ahead with his rally in a communally sensitive area. Clearly, no matter what its defence of Mr. Shah’s remarks, the BJP is intent on adopting the politics of provocation in Uttar Pradesh. Polarisation on religious lines may pay short-term political dividends but it will do grievous harm to the social fabric.

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