Uttar Pradesh is more than a 1,000 kms from Pakistan. It doesn’t share a common border with Pakistan either. And development is the main theme that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will canvass votes on, an appeal that has resonated rather well among Indian voters in recent years.
Despite knowing all this, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh bragged about his trip to Pakistan to an audience of largely poor farmers and unemployed youth during a campaign speech he made in a communally sensitive town of Gangoh in western Uttar Pradesh, which votes in the second phase of UP elections on Wednesday.
As reported by the Indian Express, his speech themed around the tough line the Naredra Modi government has taken toward Pakistan, and vague concepts of “self-respect” and “pride”. The minister also recounted how daringly he had visited Pakistan as India’s representative to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in August 2016, despite massive street protests against Indian participation.
How Rajnath Singh’s remarks on Pakistan are contributing to debate on economic and social development of Uttar Pradesh is just beyond the understanding of any sane person.
Critics of Singh’s speech would accuse him of making patriotism as an election talking point, instead of development, in order to polarise votes and scapegoat Muslims, which form nearly 20 percent of UP’s population. In Gangoh in Saharanpur district where Singh was making his speech, more than half the population professes Islam as religion.
In the psyche of some hardcore Hindu nationalists that include influential BJP leaders and MPs, Indian Muslims and Pakistan are somewhat linked. Thus patriotism, which is commonly measured in antipathy toward Pakistan, ends up targetting Muslims. This nationalist rhetoric has played out badly in UP in the past, but the BJP continues to employ it for political mileage.
The pattern is fairly consistent across the state.
“A three-child policy”
A senior BJP Rajya Sabha MP, Vinay Katiyar, recently vowed in a highly inflammatory speech that he would end the practise of “triple talaaq” among Muslims and introduce a “three child policy”, should BJP win power in Uttar Pradesh this election.
Reported by Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar, Katiyar’s remarks came during a speech he was making in Rudrauli in Faizabad district, which falls in another communally sensitive and backward region of Uttar Pradesh. Rudrauli has a below national average literacy rate as per government records, so education may well have been considered more of a development issue than regulating people’s bedroom habits and personal lives.
The hardliner MP, formerly head of right-wing outfit Barjrang Dal, is reported to have said that the people of UP “favour” the BJP as they believed in “worshipping Ram.”
“We will the fight the issue in the name of development, but will for sure build a Ram Mandir if we win the popular vote.”
So much for the idea of development.
They don’t even care to talk about it in some of the most underdeveloped places in the country.