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Home » India » Elections, A Time When Politicians Use Free Speech To Spread hate

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Elections, A Time When Politicians Use Free Speech To Spread hate

The Election Commission of India either warns the leaders making hate speeches or bars them from campaigning for a few days.

Hate Speech
In most cases of hate speeches by political leaders during election rallies, the EC either warns them or bars them from campaigning for a few days. (Photo India Ahead Network)

THE SUPREME Court may have issued a notice seeking investigation into the anti-Muslim, genocide calling event in Haridwar in December 2021, but as several incidents in the last few years shows us, politicians get away with spewing hate.

The upcoming elections have been bereft of the usual public rallies, owing to the surge in Covid-19 numbers, till at least January 15, 2022. This may be for the best as elections have shown how politicians have gotten away with slanderous and provocative speeches.

We take a look at some of the speeches that have shocked a large section.

Take the West Bengal elections of 2021 as example. It saw plenty of vitriol directed by Trinamool Congress and the Bharstiya Janta Party (BJP) at each other, but also saw hate directed at one community by BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari, leader of the opposition in the West Bengal Legislative Assembly.

In his speech on March 29, 2021, he said “On the one hand, begum is competing against us. On the other hand, here is the son of your family, your younger brother, your friend, elder brother for my juniors. Whom would you like to accept, tell me? Election is knocking at the door. You are not giving votes to begum. If you vote for begum there will be mini Pakistan. A Dawood Ibrahim has come up in your locality…“, and it went on.

The Election Commission found these in violation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) and asked for a response. In the classic way that politicians have responded to notices by the EC, he chose to deny. Adhikari claimed that he never made any personal attack or derogatory remarks against any political leader.

While EC later found him in violation of the MCC, he was let off with a warning. The EC either issues a notice, gives a warning, or removes the politician as the star campaigner – like in the case of Union Minister Anurag Thakur and BJP MP Parvesh Sahib Singh Verma in January 29, 2020. The two were removed as “star campaigners” from the BJP’s list for Delhi Assembly elections 2020, but they were allowed to campaign.

The day after this order, however, Thakur was found guilty of violating the MCC and Representation of the People Act 1951 for making “undesirable and objectionable statement which has the tone and tenor to aggravate existing difference or create mutual hatred between different religions communities”.

But the consequence?

Barred from public meetings, rallies, road shows, interviews, etc., for a period of just 72 hours. For instigating people to shoot, the penalty was three days of staying away from the limelight.

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The context of his speech, as well as others we will look at, is what was taking place in the backdrop of the Delhi Assembly elections held on February 8, 2020. Many ares of the national capital were witnessing protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) since December 2019 – with a women led sit-in protest in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh especially irking authorities.

So when Thakur raised a slogan which came to be used against the anti-CAA brigade, there was a serious case of MCC violation.

The EC in its notice had written to Thakur stating exactly what was found to be in violation; the chant desh ke gaddaro ko which was“followed by response of the crowd goli maro saalo ko many times while addressing a public meeting on January 27 2020”.

Thakur’s response – deny and circumvent the intended meaning of his words –the order reads: “Anurag Thakur has stated that he has chanted only desh ke gaddaro ko which literally means the traitor of the country and it was the crowd that responded to his slogans”…“that in the statement he had neither intention to create or promote enmity between different religions, races, castes or communities nor did he do any covertact in furtherance of the same and thus is not violative” of the MCC.

Anurag Thakur is the Minister of Information and Broadcasting of India.

Then his party colleague, Sahib, who had in a public meeting, amongst other things, targeted the anti-CAA protestors saying: “People of Delhi will have to think and make a decision. These people can enter your houses, rape your sisters and daughters and kill them. There is time today; Modiji and Amit Shah won’t come to save you tomorrow… People will feel safe until Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister. If someone else takes charge, nobody will feel safe here.”

Verma’s responseto the EC was that “the statement regarding the protestors at ShaheenBagh was in response to a question in an interview and was intended to highlight certain incidents that disturbed peace in several state and his statement were misinterpreted in the media”. He also responded to his speech where he said regarding removal of mosques in Delhi that it “was in the context of removing illegal encroachment on govt land”.

The EC, however, found him in violation of the MCC and the Representation of the People Act 1951 and banned him from public meetings and campaign for 96 hours. 

There was no FIR lodged against them despite Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections of 153A IPC which penalises ‘promotion of enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony’, and others like Section 295A, Section 298 or even Section 505(1) and (2) IPC which penalises publication or circulation of any statement, rumour or report causing public mischief and enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes.

In another alleged case of hate incitement, BJP’s Kapil Mishra who the EC quoted as saying, “Delhi mein chote chote Pakistan bane, Shaheen Bagh mein Pak ki entry, “India vs Pak 8th February Delhi” was banned for 48 hours from campaigning.

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After the Delhi riots – which came soon after the elections and Aam Aadmi Party’s win — in the last week of February 2020 which left 53 dead (majority of them Muslims) and hundreds injured, Delhi Police told a metropolitan court that prima facie no cognizable offence was found for lodging FIR against Thakur and Verma.

The riots in North East Delhi, directly related to the anti-Muslim vitriol that had been brewing since the protests begun, was seen as a culmination of politicians and the slogans they had raised.

Even UP chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had been sent a notice by the EC for his comments on the Delhi elections where he said, “Today terrorists are not being fed biryani, it was either the hobby of Congress to feed biryani in Kashmir or it is the hobby of Kejriwal to feed those in incidents like Shaheen Bagh, not for Bharatiya Janata Party”… This statement was made on February 1, while the notice for his speech was issued to him on February 7, elections were held the next day.

The notice by EC though, left out the statement where he said about the anti-CAA protesters, “their ancestors divided India, so they have a grouse against this emerging Ek Bharat Shrestha Bharat”.

We don’t know the response Adityanath gave to the EC but we know no action was taken against him.

Earlier, too, in 2019, Adityanath was issued a notice for a speech in Meerut on April 9, where he had said, “would you hand over the reins of the country to terrorists, to those who call themselves children of Babur (Babur ki aulad)…to those who oppose Bajrangbali”.For this the EC banned him on April 15 from rallies for 72 hours.

He made another comment recently – as UP goes to polls in February to March 2022 in seven phases –during a conclave organised by Doordarshan: “The 80 per cent supporters will be on one side while 20 per cent will be on the other. I think 80 per cent will move forward with positive energy whereas 20 per cent have always opposed and will oppose further.”

This was taken as a divisive statement as Hindus make up almost 80% of the population in Uttar Pradesh, while Muslims make up around 19% and the rest were other minorities. Adityanath later said that the 20 per cent were those who oppose Ram Janmabhoomi and sympathise with terrorists.

What the law says

Law Commission report on hate speech released in March 2017 says “hate speech is generally an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief and the like (sections 153A, 295A read with section 298 IPC).”

But, calling it a fundamental right to free speech in March of 2014, the Supreme court had dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking direction to restrain politicians from indulging in “provocative and hate speeches”.

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The Law commission had proposed ‘The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2017’ the “insertion of new section after section153B” in the Indian Penal. The Section 153C it says would be for prohibiting incitement to hatred, and that “hatred by words either spoken or written, signs, visible representations, that causes incitement to violence shall be punishable” with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, and fine up to Rs 5000, or with both.

It had also recommended the insertion of section 505 A after IPC 505, against “Causing fear, alarm, or provocation of violence in certain cases.” Which included “with the intent to provoke the use of unlawful violence, against that person or another, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year and/or fine up to Rs 5000, or both”.

But hate speeches are not just of the recent past, take the example of Varun Gandhi from 2009 when his explicit rant against Muslims was so hateful, the BJP distanced itself from it. Even the EC’s stand on the matter was far different from the current events; it advised that he be dropped as a candidate.

During a rally in Pilibhit in UP for the general elections, Varun Gandhi had said: “eh panjaa nahi hai, yeh kamal kaa haath hai. Yeh Ka*** ke gale ko Kaat degaa chunaav ke baad. Jai Shri Ram! Ram jiki jai! Varun Gandhi Kaat daalega! Kaat denge us haath ko, Kaat denge, Kaat Daalega!  [This is not the (Congress symbol) ‘hand’, this is the hand of the ‘lotus’ (BJP’s symbol). It will cut the throat of the (derogatory expletive for Muslims) after the elections… Varun Gandhi will cut… cut that hand]

But no matter how hateful, or the advice by the commission, the BJP went ahead with his candidature. Later, he was charged for rioting, damaging public property and attempt to murder, but was cleared after witnesses turned hostile.

Almost 10 years later, in 2019, his mother Maneka Gandhi, was also sent a show cause notice by the EC.

She had said during the campaigning for general elections: “But if my victory is without the Muslims, I will not feel very good,” she said, adding she will be left with a bitter feeling. “If Muslims come for some work after this, I will think why bother, what difference will it make.”

While she was found in violation of “the relevant sections of Representation of the People Act, 1951” the commission only deemed it necessary to “warn her not to repeat such misconduct”.

The future of free hate speech may lie with politicians — the present certainly does.

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