Congress candidate from Saharanpur Lok Sabha constituency in Uttar Pradesh, Imran Masood threatened to chop Modi into small pieces in an election rally. His refrain was that while Modi could lord over the miniscule 4% Muslim minority in Gujarat, he cannot replicate the same in Uttar Pradesh as he would have a tough time contesting in the state because of its sizeable Muslim population. The Congress’s hate book churning machine continues after Sonia Gandhi, Manishankar Aiyer, Manish Tewari had called him names and compared him to antagonists such as Hitler, Pol-Pot or as a man-eater. The leaders from the ruling party have stayed true to their tradition of hurling abuses at the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. This indicates a pathological and deep-seated hatred that the Congress reserves for the man they think “who could not do anything during the 2002 violence”.
This thinly-veiled death threat comes at a time when the Congress sees its electoral bulwark crumbing down in Uttar Pradesh. Perhaps the visceral jibe by Masood was only a knee-jerk response to Modi’s rising popularity that is slowly engulfing the crucial state. But the larger problem is that yet another political controversy has beset the country in the run-up to the national elections, and the party men have merely condemned the move and not done anything apart from issuing a verbal censure. The question is shouldn’ t there be a moral standard for political parties to adhere to, or whether the Election Commission or courts should suo-motu take up these matters when the general discourse sinks to such levels.
In the past, hate speeches have been known to flare up communal sensitivities and triggered religious clashes. In a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan in March 2014, a Delhi based non-governmental organization, the Supreme Court directed the Law Commission of India to draft guidelines to define what can be construed as hate speeches. The Supreme Court stated that there was a clear lack of prosecution for hate speeches, and it was not because there wasn’t enough in the letter of the law, instead it was due to lack of enforcement. However, the existing penal law is a mere dead letter as all that really happens is that the author of a hate speech usually gets away on a technical or flimsy ground. For instance, on March 3rd, 2014, the Supreme Court quashed a PIL filed by Adv. ML Sharma seeking intervention of the Court in directing the Election Commission to curb hate speeches. The Court in its ruling stated how it could not curb the fundamental right of the people to express themselves. The Court stated how “one is free to accept the view of others” and that it is a matter of perception and a statement that may seem to be objectionable to one might be normal to another person. The Supreme Court is obviously complicit of issuing an erroneous interpretation in that it has failed to clearly demarcate between a hate speech and a free speech and has chosen to give short shrift to the concept of reasonable restrictions enshrined in the Constitution. This outright dismissive character of the judgment is still reflective of a sense of acquired detachment and impassiveness of the Indian judiciary and this does clearly compels one to doubt the future of security and solidarity in the nation.
This conundrum seems to be exacerbated also by the extreme bias with which the left-liberal mainstream media reacted to Imran Masood’s speech. They have so far not raised much hue and cry, as this does not clearly fit in to their “Hindutva terrorism” rhetoric. This similar attitude was displayed when they refused to acknowledge the mortal danger that was posed to the BJP prime ministerial candidate’s life in the wake of the Patna and Gaya serial blasts when he was touring the cities for a public rally. This move also dilutes the larger issues that are dominating the electoral landscape in the country today, such as development, poverty, corruption scams and the need for a stronger economy.
The mainstream media is known to maintain an atmosphere of silence when the communally-tinged sentiments are expressed from one of the secular parties, and this instance is no exception either.
What the general public stands to lose is seeing the picture for what it is. The real picture being that it is the habit of the ruling political hegemony to pit communities against each other and reap electoral benefits in the ensuing chaos and confusion. A feeling of victimhood is cultivated in the collective psyche deliberately in the run up to the elections and this ends up harming the country’s integrity. The recent verdict of the Supreme Court also stands to be used conveniently by the Masoods as an authorized license to incite hatred and violence in the already corroding social fabric. About time that the political parties themselves or the Election Commission take actions commensurate with the extent of grave provocation and misjudgment posed by these malicious speeches.