In a six-month-long investigation, Sagar, a staff-writer at The Caravan, scrutinised Facebook live broadcasts by members affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of the Delhi violence of February 2020. In this series based on the investigation, The Caravan reports on the Hindutva mobilisation that preceded the violence, its political and communal nature, and the role played by the RSS, BJP and affiliated organisations such as the Bajrang Dal in fomenting hate against those protesting the Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2019.
Although the situation on the ground reached a flashpoint only on 23 February, the BJP’s political mobilisation around the CAA had begun weeks earlier, as a central theme of the party’s Delhi election campaign. The national capital went to polls on 8 February 2020, and in the days and weeks ahead of it, the BJP had deployed a large number of its cadre to galvanise support among the local Hindu population by stirring them against the anti-CAA protests.
Anupam Pandey, the president of the BJP’s Sonia Vihar mandal—a ward in northeast Delhi—had actively campaigned on the CAA issue for the party. On 31 December 2019, Pandey addressed a rally in which he called the anti-CAA protestors “deshdrohis”—anti-nationals. In a livestream of the rally posted by one of his subordinates, Pandey can be heard telling the crowd, “I want to tell you something: if there is anyone who talks for Hindus it is only the BJP … If the next chief minister is from BJP, then these traitors who are sitting on roads, the ones burning buses, we would at least get rid of them.”
Kusum Tomar, a BJP councilor from northeast Delhi’s Babarpur ward, was similarly no stranger to the polarising narrative of CAA mobilisation. On 30 January, while campaigning for Naresh Gaur, the BJP’s candidate for Babarpur assembly, Tomar told the crowd, “Aur jab button dabao, toh aisi aawaz aana chahiye ki jaise kisi deshdrohi ka gala daba diya hai”—When you cast your vote, it should sound like you’ve strangled a traitor. Tomar, like Chatak, is associated with Yuva Hindu Sangh, which had organised Hanuman Chalisa events at the Maujpur temple in the months before the violence.
Tomar told me she went to Maujpur only because everyone else from her party was there, and denied inciting the mob. “Sab the wahan par toh hum bhi chalen gayen, aisa toh kuch nahi hai”—Everyone was there so I also went, there’s nothing beyond that. When I confronted her with videos of her provocative statements, she questioned my intention. “How come you are remembering about anti-CAA protests now?” she asked. Before hanging up, she sought to shrug off her comments about strangling protesters as a campaign speech. “These are things that everyone says during an election campaign,” Tomar said. “I might have spoken something like that too. I although don’t remember if I said that exactly.”