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.
The sit-in protest at Shaheen Bagh against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act began on 15 December 2019, four days after it was passed in Parliament. That day, the prime minister Narendra Modi addressed a rally in Jharkhand’s Dumka district and implicitly accused Muslims of committing arson during the protests against the CAA. “The ones setting things on fire, their pictures are coming on television,” Modi said. “Who are these arsonists? They can be identified from their clothes only.” The comment was a thinly veiled reference to the Muslim community.
Exactly one week later, the prime minister Narendra Modi held a rally in Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan. He accused the opposition parties of misleading the public and claimed that the law would only grant citizenship, and did not seek to take it away from anyone. The prime minister then animatedly prodded his temple and added, “Agar thodi si bhagwan ne di hai, toh jara upyog karo”—If god has given you any intelligence, then use it. He paused as the audience burst into laughter.
These speeches, and others by him and his subordinates in the party, appear to have played a major role in shaping the Maujpur mob’s understanding of the citizenship law and the protests against it. Modi, with the help of a mainstream media, had successfully projected the narrative that the anti-CAA protesters were ignorant of the law, stupid for protesting it and acting against the interest of the nation. Modi and his party’s legislators did not address the brazen religious exclusion in the law, and its persecution of one minority in the garb of protecting others.
They did not speak of how Amit Shah had laid out the proposed implementation of the National Register of Citizens, and how refugees would be given citizenship under the CAA before “infiltrators” would be thrown out using the NRC. The BJP’s narrative did not address the fear among Muslim protesters that the CAA would only protect Hindus and deny protection to them during the implementation of the NRC. As a result, many of Modi’s followers, such as those who occupied the Maujpur Chowk, had a limited and prescribed understanding of the law, and simultaneously believed that the anti-CAA protesters were ignorant of the law and acting against the country by protesting it.
Saurabh Chatak, who was then the president of the BJYM’s Maujpur mandal, was one such person among those mobilising people via Facebook on the afternoon of 23 February. “We are sitting at Maujpur red light in support of Delhi police and CAA at 3 pm today,” he posted at 12.24 pm. “Please come in large numbers.” Chatak told me he appealed to locals to clear the roads because the “other” side had closed it for their “lack of knowledge of the law.” He added, “The thing is, CAA doesn’t take away anyone’s citizenship. Incomplete knowledge about anything is always harmful. The CAA is in the interest of the country.”