Defeat BJP’s Ploy to Turn Religious Festivals into Vote-Harvesting Theatre of Communal Hate

Once again, the festival of Ram Navami has been marked by targeted anti-Muslim violence and vandalism in state after state. Major incidents of violence have been reported from BJP-ruled Maharashtra, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and poll-bound Karnataka as well as non-BJP states like Bihar and West Bengal. Festivals that should be celebrated in an environment of peace, harmony and joy are increasingly being turned into theatres of vandalism and violence targeted predominantly against India's biggest minority community of Muslims.

In the wake of last year's widespread violence on Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti, a collective of citizens and lawyers had meticulously studied the pattern and produced a 176-page report titled Routes of Wrath - Weaponising Religious Processions - Communal Violence During Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti (April 2022). Allowing sword-brandishing Ram Navami processions with hate-filled slogans, songs and speeches near mosques and across predominantly Muslim-inhabited neighbourhoods has been identified in this report as the most common enabling factor apart from more brazen examples of administrative lapses and even connivance. The pattern could once again be seen at work this year, and more elaborately so with Ram Navami being allowed to become a protracted festival spread over days. Several cases of vandalism and violence, like the shocking destruction of the Azizia madrasa and library in Biharsharif (Nalanda, Bihar) and violence in Rishra (Hooghly district, West Bengal), actually took place after Ram Navami was already over.

The targeted destruction of the Azizia madrasa and library merits special attention. The 110-year-old madrasa housed a rich library, next only to the iconic Khuda Baksh Library of Patna. The library's entire collection of 4,500-odd books, including many rare ones, has now been turned into ashes. The madrasa was established by renowned philanthropist and educationist Bibi Soghra in memory of her husband Moulavi Abdul Aziz who had quit his government job to join the great 1857 War of Independence. Apart from being a heritage cultural centre, it also served as a model madrasa imparting modern education to around five hundred boys and girls. Demonisation of madrasas as a training ground of terrorists is central to the Islamophobic propaganda of the Sangh brigade, and the destruction of the Azizia madrasa takes this anti-madrasa campaign to a new level.

The growing weaponisation of religious festivals is a key feature of communal fascist frenzy and aggression in India. We need to foil this design by all means. The constitutional framework of rule of law must be saved from degenerating into an enabling instrument of fascist violence. On a social and cultural plane we must amplify the voices of reason and harmony to combat this toxic spread of communal venom. And most importantly, we must summon the popular political will and resolve to defeat this fascist game plan and uphold the constitutional objective of secular democracy.

Years ago revolutionary poet Gorakh Pandey had penned these prophetic lines: Iss baar danga bahut bada tha/ khub hui thi/ khun ki baarish/ agle saal achchhi hogi/ fasal/ matdaan ki (this time the riots have been horrific/ the rain of blood was heavy/ the coming year will witness/ a bumper harvest of votes). We have seen this happen with increasing frequency in recent years. In Gujarat, the 2002 genocide has been turned into a pedestal for successive electoral victories for the BJP. Even after twenty years Amit Shah invoked it in the recent Gujarat elections as 'a befitting lesson to rioters, a key to enduring peace'. The 2013 Muzaffarnagar carnage paved the way for the BJP's spectacular electoral showing in Uttar Pradesh in 2014.

If we needed any clue to decode the BJP's electoral game plan behind this year's Ram Navami violence, it has been made abundantly clear by none other than Amit Shah. Within hours of the Biharsharif violence (there were several other places where attempts to unleash violence could be foiled by alert citizens) Amit Shah issued this loud election call from a meeting in nearby Nawada district: 'Bring Modiji back to power by giving us all the 40 Lok Sabha seats in 2024 and a clear majority in the Assembly elections of 2025 and we will hang all rioters upside down'! Bihar has perhaps never heard a clearer genocidal threat and a more direct call for votes on the basis of communal violence. Bihar had stopped Advani's riot rath in 1990, in 2004 Bihar voted decisively to defeat the BJP government at the Centre after the 2002 Gujarat genocide, most recently in the 2020 Assembly elections south Bihar voted overwhelmingly for CPI(ML) and its alliance partner RJD and rejected the politics of feudal-communal violence. Bihar will again have to assert its anti-communal legacy to rebuff the Sangh-BJP campaign of communal fascist aggression and throw its fullest weight to lead the "Save Democracy, Save India" mission to victory.