A Muslim couple walks past Indian police in Mumbai, India Image Credit: AFP

As elections near in India’s biggest and most crucial state, Uttar Pradesh, in just about five months, a snapshot of the nasty campaign that is about to unfold, was unveiled last week.

Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath made this blatantly communal and bigoted remark: “Under PM Modi’s leadership, there is no place for appeasement politics ... Before 2017 was everyone able to get ration? Only those who used to say ‘Abba Jaan’ were digesting the ration,” he said at an event.

For a party that brags so much about it’s “development” work in UP, one has to wonder why polarisation and minority baiting has kicked off so early in the campaign.

With a population of about 20 per cent Muslims, UP is expected to see a bitterly polarised campaign. The BJP has never shied away from resorting to communal politics and this time, with so much at stake, it could become even worse. The list of communal statements made by the state’s Chief Minister over the years is too long to list here.

RDS_190602 No mobile phones Yogi Adityanath-1559455953709
Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of UP Image Credit: Gulf News archive

But it also comes as no surprise. Prejudice against minorities in India has been casually normalised in recent years, whether it is through political campaigns, or through television and social media and it is not just anonymous handles doing it anymore.

What was unthinkable for us as Indians some years ago, is now a stark reality. This bigotry is now proudly displayed in public by former diplomats, army generals, and many more.

Attacks on ordinary Muslims

On the streets of Madhya Pradesh’s Indore, a Muslim bangle seller, Tasleem Ali, was recently brutally beaten by Hindutva goons, all captured on video.

Instead, he finds himself under arrest on charges of child molestation, charges that were belatedly levelled against him after the video of the beating went viral. The fact that he was also attacked for allegedly changing his name and pretending to be a Hindu says a lot about the state of minorities today.

Today, India is a country where minorities are questioned about their patriotism day after day. Where bogus terms like “love jihad” have been coined to push back against interfaith marriages (and which also assume women have no mind of their own).

Lead by authorities, and dutifully followed by “news” channels, Tablighi Jamaat were blamed last year for spreading Covid-19 in India.

Arrests were made, cases were filed and many of those cases have now been thrown out by the courts. Evidence later showed that the congregation of the Tablghis, while irresponsible during a pandemic, was hardly the main reason for the spread of the coronavirus. No one has apologised to those who were hounded and vilified.

The Taliban took over Afghanistan, but on Indian TV news channels and twitter, it somehow becomes the responsibility of every Indian Muslim to condemn the terrorists in Kabul. For Kashmiri Muslims, even more so.

TV news channels have lead the vilification campaign against minorities, demonising an entire community and seeking to paint any disagreement or dissent in a negative light.

I see Muslim journalists on twitter even more viciously targeted and attacked by right wing trolls. India is a country where when a crime happens, the first thing social media users talk about is the perpetrator or the victim’s religion.

You would think that after facing a horrific pandemic, which saw people gasping for oxygen and medical infrastructure collapsing, the people of India would want politicians to talk about what they are doing to make our hospitals better.

You would think that politicians will make health the central focus of their election campaign. But if Yogi Adityanath’s comments are anything to go by, no one cares.

Not the politicians who seek to polarise, and not even a section of voters, who have short memories and are driven by the worst kind of bigotry.

This is not the India so many of us grew up in.