Horrified to hear Home Minister Amit Shah say at a public rally that he wanted voters to press so hard on the ‘button’ that registered their vote that it would send a shock all the way to Shaheen Bagh.
Never has an election campaign in Delhi been as ugly as the one just ended. Never have senior ministers of the government of India spent so much time on what is essentially a municipal election. Never before have we seen so open an attempt to make it an election to divide Hindus and Muslims.
Despite the ugliness and venom that defined the BJP’s campaign, early opinion polls indicate that it is unlikely to win Delhi. It deserves to lose. I speak as someone who has spent more than half a lifetime in this city and who cherishes its syncretic culture.
It horrified me to hear senior BJP leaders like Yogi Adityanath make the word ‘biryani’ a term of abuse and to hear other BJP leaders speak of this election as a choice between ‘India and Pakistan’. Horrified to hear a minister in the government of India urge his audience to ‘shoot traitors’ and to hear Home Minister Amit Shah say at a public rally that he wanted voters to press so hard on the ‘button’ that registered their vote that it would send a shock all the way to Shaheen Bagh.
Had he bothered instead to actually go and talk to the women in Shaheen Bagh, he would have discovered that they are not Pakistanis or traitors.
All they want from him is an assurance that he will not implement, as he has threatened more than once, a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC).
Sadly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, instead of controlling his troops, has actually encouraged them. Last week in the Lok Sabha, he accused opposition leaders of spreading lies about the new citizenship law. And, during the campaign for Delhi, he said much too often that he saw in the Shaheen Bagh protest a sinister attempt to spread anarchy in India.
If he examines the protests without prejudice, he will discover that the protesters have genuine fears that if an NRC is held, they will be unable to produce the documents that prove that they are Indian. He may also discover that their fears have been exacerbated by the sort of speeches that were made by BJP leaders during the election campaign for Delhi.
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As a ‘Dilliwali’, what the campaign brought home to me with brutal clarity was that India’s new ruling elite has not yet begun to understand Delhi. In their obsession with ‘Lootyens’ and Khan Market, our new leaders have not noticed that it is in this city that Urdu was born. It is this city that is the capital of the Ganga-Jamuni culture this new elite so despises. Some of the greatest Urdu poets were born in this city as well as some of the greatest Hindi writers. And, it was out of this linguistic harmony that the language of Delhi became Hindustani.
This uniquely Delhi culture needs to be cherished, not torn to shreds by making Hindus believe that the women protesting in Shaheen Bagh are leading a jihad against India. BJP leaders have gone so far as to say that these women are ‘rapists’ and that, if protests like these continue, then Delhi will once more come under ‘Mughal Raj’.
This kind of talk is not just dangerous but ‘anti-national’ in the truest sense of that awful term. The Mughals did indeed rule India once, Muslim invaders did indeed commit terrible acts of brutality in Delhi, but it is also true that from those centuries of Muslim rule was born a culture that was syncretic. These syncretic ties exist not just in Delhi, they are woven into the fabric of north Indian culture.
This is why Delhi survived Partition and the influx of refugees who came to this city from the Punjab, bringing with them tales of unspeakable horror. My father’s family was among those refugees and not once did I hear them speak with hatred or bitterness about what had happened to them. The only time I can remember my grandmother speaking about Partition was after I became a journalist and was asked to interview her for a story I was writing.
It was then that she told me that she had been fortunate to get on a train from Lahore to Amritsar at the time that was not attacked. All the other trains that day brought only corpses. She never spoke of this again to me because the pain was too deep.
It is very deep for a lot of Delhi’s citizens, but as Vidia Naipaul once said, “The past has to be seen to be dead; or the past will kill.”
It is tragic that this campaign for Delhi was about things that happened in the long dead past and not as it should have been, about Delhi’s future. This was entirely because of the tone of the BJP’s campaign. Losing Delhi will be just punishment for this shameless attempt to divide and rule.
This article first appeared in the print edition on February 9, 2020 under the title “Fifth column: Delhi’s worst election campaign”
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