The BJP is ‘legitimising’ hate speech: Indian Muslim MP

After facing Islamophobic comments inside India’s parliament, Kunwar Danish Ali speaks about a wider climate of hate.

Kunwar Danish Ali
Indian Muslim MP Kunwar Danish Ali, who was the target of Islamophobic verbal abuse inside the Indian parliament, warns that the silence of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) shows the legitimisation of the hate speech he experienced [Danish Pandit/Al Jazeera]

On September 21, Kunwar Danish Ali, an Indian Muslim member of parliament with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), was subjected to Islamophobic comments and communal slurs by a legislator from India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

BJP MP Ramesh Bidhuri called Ali a “pimp”, a “terrorist” and used the pejorative “circumcised” among other derogatory remarks inside the Indian parliament.

Al Jazeera spoke to Ali about the incident, how requests to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to condemn Bidhuri’s behaviour have gone unanswered and what he believes the incident says about the future of Indian democracy.

Al Jazeera: Can you tell us what happened inside the parliament?

Ali: That day, there was a discussion on Chandrayaan-3 landing on the moon’s south pole.

I delivered my speech, praising [the] Indian scientific community, all the governments who initiated this, starting from Jawaharlal Nehru to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

I also mentioned the contribution of our first education minister, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. I made only one sarcastic remark – that the difference between today’s government and previous governments was that when Jawaharlal Nehru was prime minister, Azad formed [the] Indian Institutes of Technology or IITs – which are contributing a lot in the field of technology – because he was appointed at that time [when] the people were of [a] scientific temperament.

[Then] I gave the example that recently one IIT director in Himachal Pradesh [state] was teaching his students – and the video went viral – that floods and avalanches are happening [there] because people are eating non-vegetarian [food].

So I just made that reference – that people of unscientific temperament are being appointed as a director of IIT.

When BJP MP Mr Ramesh Bidhuri started his speech, he made all [these] obnoxious statements, that some people were hoping that Modi must be killed like a dog.

How can you use this type of phrase? I objected to the chair. Then he lost his cool and started abusing me and my community [calling me] “pimp” and “katua” (circumcised), calling me a “terrorist”.

This type of thing is being told daily on the streets.

But this is the first time that it has happened on the floor of the house.

I have given my complaint to the speaker of the Lok Sabha [lower house of parliament]. [There has been] no action from the [ruling] party’s side. I wrote a letter to the prime minister to at least make a statement to condemn this type of behaviour – otherwise, you are legitimising this.

Al Jazeera: After this incident, Bidhuri was appointed BJP head of Rajasthan’s Tonk district. What do you make of this move?

Ali: Instead of expelling Bidhuri from the party and taking action, they are promoting him as a star campaigner. So what does it [signify]? That the party is legitimising the hate speech which he delivered in parliament.

Al Jazeera: Do you believe you were personally targeted?

Ali: I am being targeted because I am a vocal, responsible Muslim parliamentarian. Because I participate in all the debates.

The BJP used to say, ‘We want Congress mukt Bharat (Congress Party free India)’, but their real intention is they want opposition mukt Bharat (opposition free India). They want a legislature which doesn’t have any Muslim representation. They have done it in their own parliamentary party. There is no Muslim MP in the BJP.

So if a Muslim parliamentarian like me questions the government, then I am the target.

Al Jazeera: Had it been someone from the Muslim community saying such derogatory remarks, do you think strict action would have been taken?

Ali: If [the situation] would have been vice versa, by this time, the MP would have been expelled from the parliament and they would have created a narrative of, ‘See what is the real face of this [community] leader?’

If I would have done something – reacted – they would have created a narrative of, ‘Oh, see this. Taliban are in the parliament. The “terrorists” are in the parliament.’

I can only say that they are in a fool’s paradise. The people of this country and the majority community of this country still believe in democracy and secularism.

Their affiliated organisations are doing the same thing everywhere. They have filled so much hate inside people that [recently] in Delhi, a mentally disabled young Muslim [who] had a prasad (a religious offering) from a temple was lynched.

His crime was that he took a prasad. You attack every day, you lynch people daily, but if there is some reaction to it then you will immediately come with the bulldozers.

Al Jazeera: Do you think that in the future Muslim voices will be completely suppressed?

Ali: They [the BJP] don’t want any Muslim to get elected. Secondly, they want that even if a Muslim is elected, then he should be threatened and warned that he should not be able to talk about himself or his community in parliament.

The way they have created the atmosphere [in the country] and in the state where I belong, Uttar Pradesh, they want to create the same in the parliament. They just want you to be like a living corpse: the rights which are given to you by the constitution? You should not ask for those rights.

Al Jazeera: Opposition parties have shown support. Does this make you feel better?

Ali: See, on that day when it happened, I could not sleep the whole night. My head was burning. I didn’t tell my wife and children. The next day, when this video went viral and the press asked me [about it], I got emotional.

It’s not [just] that I was abused. Muslims on the streets are hearing this every day. Now it has entered the parliament.

I am more pained now that after this incident [there is] not a single condemnation from the prime minister, not a single condemnation from the ruling party of India. What type of society [do] you want to make?

Al Jazeera: Did you ever expect something like this to happen?

Ali: In the Delhi assembly elections in 2020, some BJP MPs and ministers delivered hate speeches and within months they got promoted.

So legislators and leaders of BJP think that by making these types of hate speeches they will get patronage from the highest office.

I am a believer in the democracy and the parliamentary system of my country. I hope the people of this country will take a call to have a harmonious society and teach a lesson to these hatemongers.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

Source: Al Jazeera