ON Republic Day five years ago, on the eve of the last Delhi Assembly elections, PM Narendra Modi bragged of US President Barack Obama as his guest and friend, and flaunted a Rs 10 lakh suit with his name embroidered all over it.
On Republic Day 2020, Narendra Modi's guest was Jair Bolsonaro, the Brazilian President notorious for his racist, misogynist and homophobic hate speech, valorisation of military dictatorship and genocide, and for destroying vast swathes of Amazon rainforest. A head of state is certainly known by the company he keeps. And Modi's choice of guest is a measure of the fact that international opinion now recognises him as one of the world's most dangerous authoritarians today.
The people of Brazil and India are fighting a life and death battle to defend their democracies from Bolsonaro and Modi respectively. Republic Day 2020 witnessed powerful protests in India and at Indian embassies abroad, reclaiming the Republic and reasserting the values of the Constitution, against the authoritarian and bigoted NPR NRC CAA. At the Indian High Commission in London, Indian and South Asian protestors were, fittingly, joined by Brazilian anti fascist campaigners. In Shaheen Bagh in Delhi, thousands of citizens joined Radhika Vemula in hoisting the national flag.
The choice of Bolsonaro as chief guest was also an indicator of what Modi and his party have on offer for Delhi voters in the upcoming elections. This time there is no pretence of offering "development" or "governance". As the ruins of the economy, destroyed by Modi's demonetisation disaster, collapse on the heads of India's people, Modi and Shah lead their Ministers and party MPs offer Delhi voters nothing but unveiled communal hatred and violence.
Amit Shah asked Delhi voters to press the EVM button with such rage that the women at Shaheen Bagh should feel the "current" of electricity. BJP Minister Anurag Thakur publicly asked his audience at an election rally to "shoot traitors dead", making it clear that he considered Opposition leaders and anti CAA protestors to be the traitors. BJP MP Pravesh Varma asked Delhi voters to recognise that Modi and Shah were keeping them safe from the community which would otherwise rise up from Shaheen Bagh, enter Hindu homes to rape and kill people. In what is likely to have been a consequence of such hate speech, two men armed with a gun entered Shaheen Bagh with an intention to cause harm and mayhem.
Meanwhile the Delhi Police has refused to arrest any of the ABVP cadres who led the murderous armed assault on JNU students and teachers nearly a month ago. But it has hunted down a JNU student for an irresponsible speech which it deems to be "sedition", and attempted to falsely project this student as the "leader" of Shaheen Bagh and the countrywide women's movement against NPR-NRC-CAA.
The people of Delhi and India, led by its women, remain undeterred by this outpouring of hate and violence. They are determined to ensure that love, courage of conscience, shared ownership of the Constitution, and issues of education, health, rights and democracy are victorious over hate in the Delhi elections and in India.