New Delhi, India – A tweet posted by India’s governing party has triggered controversy, with the right-wing party accused of mocking a phrase used by anti-citizenship law protesters.
India has witnessed nationwide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed by Parliament in December last year in the latest in a string of anti-Muslim policies pushed by the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.
The slogan “Kaaghaz Nahi Dikhayenge Hum” (we will not show the documents) has reverberated through the more than seven weeks of protests, as a mark of defiance against the planned National Register of Citizens (NRC).
"Kaagaz Nahi Dikayenge Hum" ! ! !
— BJP Karnataka (@BJP4Karnataka) February 8, 2020
The government says it has yet to decide on the implementation of the NRC, but wants to go ahead with National Population Register (NPR), which critics say is a precursor to the NRC.
The BJP Karnataka unit on Saturday tweeted a video of burqa-clad Muslim women standing in a queue apparently outside a polling station in the Indian capital New Delhi, to cast their votes, with a caption: “Kaagaz Nahi Dikayenge Hum !!!. Keep the documents safe, you will need to show them again during NPR exercise.”
The tweet has gained over 31,000 likes and has been retweeted more than 10,000 times with many criticising the right-wing party for threatening protesters.
This is India’s ruling party, a group of extreme nationalists, openly mocking a phrase being used by dissenters and protestors across their nation to resist discriminatory policies.
Somebody please remind the BJP that, in a democracy: Dissent in Patriotic. https://t.co/cvwddRohzr
— Audrey Truschke (@AudreyTruschke) February 9, 2020
“What an utterly crude handle you operate. The language of thugs and goons from the state of Karnataka known for its literary excellence. Disgraceful,” one user wrote.
Senior journalist Suhasini Haider tweeted: “This taunting and mocking tone towards a minority by the ruling party is not just frightening; it is against everything India stands for.”
“There is reason to believe that the party’s bigoted dog-whistling is the true intent and the union government’s denials are not taken seriously even by the party in power itself,” said Gazala Wahab, assistant professor at JNU’s Centre for the Study of Law and Governance.
This is not the first time the @BJP4Karnataka handle has come under fire for controversial tweets.
Last month, it posted a controversial tweet comparing a student from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) with a gunman who fired at protesters near Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) university in New Delhi.
The tweet had photos of Sharjeel Imam – who is in police custody for making a speech – and the gunman with the caption: “Action” for Imam and “reaction” for the gunman, implying the firing was in reaction to Imam’s speech.
Two recent posts by BJP handles which they had to delete. ‘The nation wants to know’ why they put these up. Their supporters wish to know why they deleted them. Unless, of course, their social media handles are also operated, like guns at Jamia, by juveniles?! pic.twitter.com/xjjN9Z7AUp
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) January 31, 2020
The tweet was later deleted after public outcry.
Even some BJP supporters took exception to the tone of the tweet. “Not done! Adds to the fear factor! Derails PM Modi’s pitch. Please be sensible,” wrote Amrita Bhinder, a vocal supporter of the BJP and a former member of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha [the BJP youth wing].
Delhi-based activist, Shabnam Hashmi told Al Jazeera that Karnataka BJP is “menacingly offensive” and it is constantly creating an atmosphere of “hate and polarisation”.
“It seems to say whether you [Muslims] like it or not you will have to show the documents during NPR. Not only Muslims but all marginalised sections will suffer heavily during the NRC process the first step of which begins with NPR,” Hashmi said.
“It’s during the NPR process that doubtful citizens will be marked. They are only fooling the people,” she said.
BJP leaders from Karnataka in the past have been accused of whipping up a xenophobic frenzy, with the state government cracking down on undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh.
Last month, hundreds of people were rendered homeless after authorities demolished a slum in the state capital of Bengaluru, also known as the Silicon Valley of India, over rumours it was inhabited by Bangladeshis. It later turned out that all residents were Indian citizens.
Tejasvi Surya, a BJP member of parliament from Karnataka, has been accused of fear-mongering and Islamophobia.
“Shaheen Bagh is [a] symbol of Islamic fanaticism in garb of constitutional secularism,” he tweeted, referring to the epicentre of anti-CAA protests.
Critics say the citizenship law, which fast-tracks citizenship for non-Muslims from three neighbouring countries, goes against the country’s secular constitution.
The law along with the proposed nationwide NRC has instilled fear among the country’s Muslims, who form nearly 15 percent of India’s 1.3 billion population.
Nearly 30 people have died in the anti-CAA protests across the country so far.
A similar exercise conducted in the northeastern state of Assam excluded nearly two million people from the citizenship list last year.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said no individual will be required to submit any document for the NPR survey, but the tweet by Karnataka BJP says otherwise.
BJP spokesman Nalin Kohli also said the NPR does not require citizenship documents.
“The tweet by the Karnataka BJP handle … leads to an unnecessary confusion because the NPR doesn’t require any documents and it has been reiterated by the union government on a number of occasions.”