Allure Of Hatefulness Beyond Hate Speech

Polarisation between the Hindus and the Muslims is an unappetising reality, an ugliness that will not go away even after the votes get counted

Illustration: Vikas Thakur
Photo: Illustration: Vikas Thakur

On Thursday, May 16, 2024, at 10.38 pm, a post lands up in a WhatsApp group that was originally set up by an eminent doctor to educate his patients, but taken over by the radical bhakts. It read: “Hyderabad ke razakarone Hinduo par, unki mahilao par kitne julam dhaye hai, iss ka ithihas aaj ki, vartman pidhi ko to patta hi nahi hai… Dobara aisa na ho, isliye “jagrook” ho kar matdan avashi kare.” Roughly translated, the post recalls for the benefit of the younger generation, all the “atrocities” committed by the Nizam’s razakars (volunteers) against the Hindus, especially the Hindu women. The post asks the viewers to vote vigilantly, lest that “story” gets repeated. For dramatic effect, there is a clip from the film, Razakar, and a commentator weaves in the “atrocities” committed on the Hindus in Kashmir.

Thousands of such messages flood social media platforms daily, all intended to scare Hindus against the unnamed yet obvious “enemy”. These messages are designed to neatly shoehorn themselves into the mythology of hate that has been assiduously cultivated over the decades. In this election season, “hate” seems to be the flavour of the month.

Making someone hate another person, group or community is a long-term project. As Claude Lévi-Strauss pointed out many decades ago, in his classic work, The Savage Mind, myths help us make sense of a complicated world and force us to confront, in an uncomfortable manner, the choices and dilemmas we face in everyday life. That life has become immensely complicated, with fearsome images of violence and conflicts from home and abroad being brought into living rooms. A “security state” demands uncomplaining conformity from the citizens, with its definitions of the “enemy” and citizens who do not fall in line ipso facto deemed to be suspect, even consorting with the undefined “enemy”. And, it becomes fashionable, even politically correct, not only to hate the “enemy” but also to loudly demonstrate hatred towards the chosen adversary.

This business of hate and invoking hatred has, in recent years, yielded enormous electoral dividends to political mercenaries. And each electoral success brings in its trail a hefty dose of respectability, even legitimacy. Sanity, reasonableness, and refinement are deemed as signs of weakness and enfeeblement. Verbal aggression, intimidation, and even violence have been “normalised”.

We in India have not been unaffected by the global phenomenon of the coarsening of public life and political discourse. And, given the complicated history of our freedom movement and post-Partition national consolidation, the terms and tenor of the Hindu-Muslim question have never been allowed to settle. Instead, myths and fictionalised “facts” about our history and culture and political developments have been manufactured to prepare us for the current infatuation with animosity and hate.

In fact, no one should be surprised that the entire Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has resorted to the use of religion in its campaign. After all, in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, the Modi establishment had very elaborately wrapped itself up in the cloak of Hindu-ness. The party and its leadership have travelled an extra mile to advertise its “Hindu” credentials.

The great spectacle of the Pran Pratishtha (consecration) of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya on January 22, 2024, was the cherry on the cake. A religious ceremony was converted into a grand political event, with the camera almost exclusively focusing on the prime minister, performing the priestly duties. India’s ruling elite—business tycoons, the RSS chief, former chief justices, media moguls, retired generals and colonels—was summoned to witness the prime minister play the chief priest, a man whom the nation could trust to be the noble instrument of a true Ram Rajya.

In the weeks after the spectacle at Ayodhya, the prime minister almost came to proclaim that he had been divinely mandated to carry on “serving” the nation and its masses. At each stop and almost every day, he strived—unapologetically, unhurriedly—hard to surround himself with Hindu religious paraphernalia.

The entire political community was awestruck as the prime minister displayed—to quote Ashis Nandy from his classic essay, “An Anti-Secularist’s Manifesto”—an extraordinary “ability to use dispassionately the passions of faith of the zealot and the peripheral Hindu”. As the electoral season opened, the received wisdom was that a grand ‘Ram leher’ (Ram wave) would sweep the ruling party into an overwhelming majority in the most one-sided national election since 1984.

It is a tribute to the BJP’s massive propaganda machine—aided and abetted by a pliant national media—that the prime minister was seen as single-handedly capable of setting/changing/re-arranging the national narrative. The BJP top brass began believing in its own spiel. A 400-plus tally was for the asking.

Hate has become an acceptable norm and very many people strangely find the freedom to hate as enormously satisfying, even liberating.

Then the 2024 Lok Sabha Election Schedule was announced. The Model Code of Conduct kicked in. The ruling party could no longer lavishly spend the tax-payer’s money in promoting its Supreme Leader. The ruling party’s ironclad stranglehold on the political stock exchange was loosened up. And, soon it became clear that the average Hindu was divided between the political and electoral claims made, on the one hand, on his “identity” and the counter-pull, on the other, of the ugly realities of the not so acche din. What’s more, the Hindu voter also found that his/her caste, community and regional identities were being tapped into by other political actors and outfits. The neatly curated persona of the Supreme Hindu-ness for Prime Minister Modi was not sufficient to override the gathering doubts and disquiet in the minds of the Hindu voter.

The game had to be re-jigged. The “aroused Hindu pride” must be steered into animosity towards the “enemy.”

Again, the prime minister led from the front. A two-pronged counterattack was thought of. First, the anti-BJP forces and political parties were dubbed as “anti-Sanatan Dharma”. In the south, especially in Tamil Nadu, the DMK and its ally, the Congress, were targeted as professed distractors of “Sanatan Dharma”. And, once the battle moved north, the contest was seen as between “Ram bhakts” and “Ram-virodhis”. He even went to the extent to suggest that those who ate macchi (fish) during Ram Navami were guilty of mocking and ridiculing the sacredness of “Sanatan Dharma”. And, in Uttar Pradesh, the PM kept repeating that a “Congress-Samajwadi Party government” would run bulldozers over the Ram temple. Scaremongering at its very best.


The second part of the counterattack was to scare the Hindus into believing that the Congress Party—the only national party capable of cobbling together an alternative governing arrangement—was not only antagonistic to the Hindus, it was also positively partial towards the Muslims, at the expense of the majority community.

In the course of the rhetorical shows across the country, the prime minister has variously sought to invoke anti-Muslim feelings, tickling the innermost anxieties that had in the first place been implanted by the Hindutva crowd. He has, for example, at a rally on April 4, argued that the Congress manifesto was modelled on the ideology of the Muslim League; then, on April 21, at Banswara in Rajasthan, he warned his audience that the Congress would take away women folks’ mangalsutras; and, later, he has been repeatedly alleging that the Congress, when in power between 2004 and 2014, wanted to spend 15 per cent of the national budget on Muslims, dividing it into a “Muslim budget” and a “Hindu budget” (as reported by The Times of India, May 16, 2024). The aim was to distance away from those political formations that were aligned with the hated and hateful Muslims.


In making its pitch, the prime minister and many of his ministerial colleagues were often accused of making “hate speech,” violating the prohibition against “corrupt practices”.

This is how Section 123 of the Representation of Peoples’ Act, 1951, defines a corrupt practice: “The promotion of, or attempt to promote, feelings of enmity or hatred between different classes of the citizens of India on grounds of religion, race, caste, community, or language, by a candidate or his agent or any other person with the consent of a candidate or his election agent for the furtherance of the prospects of the election of that candidate or for prejudicially affecting the election of any candidate.”


The law is clear—as is the prime minister’s violation of the law. But there is no immediate remedy about the infringement of law—because the umpires, the Election Commission of India, packed as it is with Modi’s nominees, do not appear willing to see the violation. To complicate the Election Commission’s crisis of institutional dharma, the prime minister asserted, one fine day, that he did not do “Hindu-Muslim” politics. The Honourable Election Commissioners now have a fig-leaf of an excuse to absolve the prime minister of any hate-mongering.

This strategy of scaring the majority community and then goading it into hating the Muslims becomes attractive to the BJP’s war-room generals because the “anti-Muslim” trope can seamlessly be kneaded into “muscular nationalism.” The Muslims are portrayed as “infiltrators” and fifth columnists for Pakistan. Even after 10 years of unhindered power and total authority, Prime Minister Modi still feels the need to arouse the Hindus’ sense of insecurity.


This election season will be over in a few weeks, but the scars the political class has inflicted on our social psyche will remain as festering wounds. Hate has become an acceptable norm and very many people strangely find the freedom to hate as enormously satisfying, even liberating. Polarisation between the Hindus and the Muslims is an unappetising reality, an ugliness that will not go away even after the votes get counted on June 4. We shall remain a divided nation, at ease with the grammar of hate.


(Views expressed are personal)

(This appeared in the print as 'Allure Of Hatefulness Beyond Hate Speech')

Harish Khare is a Delhi-based senior journalist and public commentator