The unattractive poll dance before Delhi's contentious assembly election

Topics Delhi Assembly Elections | BJP | AAP

This trend was inspired by BJP’s young gun, Tejasvi Surya
Was the Mughal era a blessing or a curse for Indians? Twitter users are split into familiar camps and having a go at each other on a Friday morning. If you wonder why “Mughal” should even trend out of the blue and spark off the usual uninformed and angry debates, blame it on the Delhi assembly elections. This particular trend was inspired by Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) young gun Tejasvi Surya. Addressing Parliament during a debate on February 5, he said: “What is happening today in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh is a stark reminder that if the majority of this country is not vigilant, patriotic Indians do not stand up to this, the days of Mughal Raj coming back to Delhi are not far away.”

The member of Parliament from Bangalore South was not speaking out of turn. The ruling party at the Centre has gone for broke, deploying its leaders from across India to unleash a vitriolic election campaign in a desperate bid to unseat the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the national capital. In the process, it has spawned trending topics and dominated discussions on social media. The BJP’s Delhi unit lacks a leader to match Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who is the pollsters’ favourite to win again after delivering substantial welfare measures in areas like education and health care in the last five years.

As the principal challenger, the BJP failed to corner the AAP on issues of welfare and development. Last week, Home Minister Amit Shah tweeted that BJP MPs had found several Delhi schools to be in a sorry condition, and posted videos to support the claim. AAP promptly dismissed the footage as fake and sought a campaign ban on Shah.

Soon it became apparent that for the BJP, more than anything else the election would be fought over Shaheen Bagh, the Muslim locality where a women-led 24x7 peaceful sit-in has become a wellspring of protests scattered across India in opposition to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and a proposed update of the National Register of Citizens. From cheap personal jibes to shockingly incendiary slogans, some of the political rhetoric — if one can call it that — that was a part of this election campaign could make the trash talk of pugilists seem like pleasantries.

The Election Commission served three-day campaigning bans on Union Minister Anurag Thakur and West Delhi MP Parvesh Verma last week. Thakur had raised slogans egging on a crowd to “shoot the traitors”, while Verma asked Delhi voters to wake up and warned them that protesters who gather at Shaheen Bagh “will enter your houses, rape your sisters and daughters, and kill them”. This week, Verma was banned again, for 24 hours, by the poll panel for calling Kejriwal a terrorist.

Amid the rabble-rousing, Delhi witnessed three incidents of gunmen — one said to be a minor — shooting at crowds in Shaheen Bagh and near Jamia Millia Islamia, also a site that has drawn anti-CAA protesters. Tellingly, the BJP and the AAP also warred over the identity of the Shaheen Bagh gunman. The family of the man has denied police claims of his father and his links with the AAP.

That youths with no direct link to the BJP or AAP are inspired to pick up the gun, while echoing majoritarian Hindu sentiments, tells its own story. The AAP has tried to distance itself from Shaheen Bagh and anti-CAA protesters, refusing to be identified as an anarchic alternative siding with “traitors” that the BJP paints it to be. The Congress, meanwhile, is nowhere in the race. A day before elections, Rahul Gandhi trends on Twitter — only after a verbal joust ended in Parliament with the Prime Minister poking fun at him.

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