At Delhi rallies, Adityanath’s corrosive rhetoric resonates with misinformed voters

07 February 2020
Despite waiting for hours, the crowds became instantly charged when Ajay Singh Bisht took the stage, and chants of “Jai Shri Ram” reverberated across the rally grounds in Delhi.
Raj K Raj / Hindustan Times / Getty Images
Despite waiting for hours, the crowds became instantly charged when Ajay Singh Bisht took the stage, and chants of “Jai Shri Ram” reverberated across the rally grounds in Delhi.
Raj K Raj / Hindustan Times / Getty Images

“The tide is turning,” Rajinder Singh, a 51-year-old shopkeeper in east Delhi’s Patparganj locality, told me, on 3 February. “Since Yogi is coming over here, there’s a good chance people’s priorities are going to shift towards Shaheen Bagh, they might just forget about everything else.” We spoke at his shop as we waited for the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Ajay Singh Bisht—more commonly known as Yogi Adityanath—to arrive for his rally ahead of the Delhi elections, on 8 February. Singh took out a copy of the Dainik Bhaskar and showed me an article about the Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal reciting the Hanuman Chalisa—a sixteenth century hymn. At the rally two hours later, Bisht referred to it as well. “Those who were shouting about Shaheen Bagh are now singing about the Hanuman Chalisa,” he said. “That is the power of Shri Ram.” The crowd erupted with chants of “Jai Shri Ram!”

Over four days, starting 1 February, Bisht addressed at least 12 rallies across Delhi. At each rally, he targeted the protesters at Shaheen Bagh, a long stretch of road in the national capital that has been the site of a sit-in protest led by the Muslim women of the area. Bisht referred to them as “terrorists” and the “tukde-tukde gang.” The firebrand Bharatiya Janata Party leader was expected to mobilise the electorate at a time when Delhi witnesses thousands of residents come onto the streets day and night to protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. And Bisht delivered. Despite having to wait for hours, the crowds would become instantly charged whenever Bisht took the stage, and chants of “Jai Shri Ram” would reverberate across the rally grounds. 

I attended two rallies to understand how the BJP’s support base in Delhi understood the ongoing protests against the CAA, and why Bisht struck a chord with them. What emerged from these conversations was an apparent ignorance of the CAA and the reasons for the opposition against it, and a blind acceptance of the media they consumed. “We all know the truth,” Saurav Dhaka, a 24-year-old attendee at the rally in Tughlakabad, told me. “Why do you think we would be lied to on such a large scale? Everyone knows that there is a disease in Shaheen Bagh, and that disease needs to be stopped. Don’t you think so?”

The Patparganj rally took place at a dilapidated school ground in Patparganj’s Mandawali neighbourhood that had been decorated with saffron flags, banners and posters in preparation. The surrounding buildings were each at least two storeys high, with police officers deployed on each building. “We have never seen anything like this in our area,” Shyam Kumar Upadhyay, a 33-year-old resident of Mandawali, told me. “No one usually gives this place much importance. But people are definitely very excited to see Yogi over here; everyone has come out since the morning.”

His brother, Vijay Kumar Upadhyay, added, “See, right now, we don’t really care about what is happening in Shaheen Bagh. We only want to know about what they’re going to do for us here. I think after the elections, everyone will clear out from Shaheen Bagh.” The brothers believed that the protesters at Shaheen Bagh were all being paid. They claimed that these things were “common knowledge.” When I pressed them further, they said that they had seen these things on the WhatsApp messages they received, and that it was also shown on Zee News, which they watched regularly.  “All of this is happening for the elections, they will be moved out after that,” Vijay said. “The law isn’t going to be removed anytime soon.” While the brothers said they were going to vote on the basis of the progress in their locality, not many around Delhi shared the same sentiment.

Ahan Penkar is a fact-checking fellow at The Caravan.

Keywords: Adityanath Citizenship (Amendment) Act Arvind Kejriwal Delhi Elections 2020 Aam Aadmi Party Bharatiya Janata Party