Romeo at risk: Yogi in Bengal
The message conveyed by electoral campaigns in India has undergone a sea change. Yogi Adityanath’s election speeches in West Bengal illustrate this best. As it is, campaign speeches, especially those of certain leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, contain almost as many implicit threats as promises. The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, one of the party’s star campaigners, seems to believe that threats are promises. In one of his electoral speeches in Bengal, he flaunted the fact that posters of alleged ‘rioters’ were put up and their property confiscated after protests in UP against the citizenship laws. Since he was condemning the West Bengal chief minister’s so-called ‘appeasement’ politics that presumably allowed cow slaughter and cow smuggling to continue — Bengal has no law against cow slaughter — the purpose of polarizing two communities was perfectly clear. It seems that Mr Adityanath would like to do to Bengal what he has done in UP at the cost of democracy, equality and the law.
In Mr Adityanath’s vision, religious discrimination meets gender oppression. Not only did he harp on the increase in Bengal of ‘love jihad’ against which UP now has a law — Parliament found the phenomenon non-existent — but he also promised an ‘anti-Romeo’ squad to ‘protect’ women like the one in UP. Predictably, young people and activists in Bengal are loudly critical of the threat to women’s autonomy, interference in relationships, encouragement to the forces of male domination and the invitation to harassment. These go to the heart of Mr Adityanath’s governance. Members of the anti-Romeo squad were accused of harassing couples, molesting women, even a child in one case, of extortion and, reportedly, a murder. The law against love jihad is being used against men of the minority community in inter-community unions even when the woman is a consenting adult. That UP ranked first in the country in crimes against women in 2019 according to the National Crime Records Bureau shows that the measures ‘promised’ by Mr Adityanath open up the primrose way to discrimination and crime, whether for agents of the State or for non-State actors under their patronage. Should his electoral promises be fulfilled, women and particular communities and castes — UP has an impressive record of crimes against Dalits — would become the favourite targets of oppression in Bengal.