Last December, at a conference for right-wing Hindu monks and activists, Pooja Shakun Pandey, a leader of Hindu Mahasabha declared, "If 100 of us are ready to kill two million of them, then we will win and make India a Hindu nation."
Her zealous call for apparent genocide was caught on camera and it spread like wildfire on social media as international media condemned such public display of hatred. Although cases were eventually filed, the police have not arrested anyone yet.
Interestingly, this is the same police force who readily arrested rights activists and comedians without sufficient evidence whenever they criticised the ruling government.
In the wake of the event, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) practised deafening silence. The opposition parties also showed restraint in their condemnation given the secular country's gradual shift to the right since 2014. Nobody would want to antagonise the majority Hindu population as they form the largest voting bloc in India.
Over the last seven years in India, the persecution of Muslims has been gradually normalised, and Indians have become increasingly inured to it. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party are entirely to blame.
But this is nothing new. Hate speeches like this have become rather commonplace in India, particularly among religious, ethnic and political leaders who hold the power to sway hundreds, if not thousands of people into actions. One NDTV report from 2018 said VIP hate speech in India skyrocketed under the Modi government's rule and rose by 500%.
Prominent leaders of different parties affiliated with the BJP, as well as, BJP leaders themselves, have engaged in hate speech to rile up their voters with religious sentiments.
Much like Pooja Shakun Pandey, none of them faced charges or were arrested by the police, implying tacit protection from Narendra Modi's government.
However, this culture of silence and implicit protection fostered a sense of impunity among the majority Hindu population, particularly the Hindu nationalists and the minorities of India had to bear the brunt of the burden.
Reports find that some 90% of all hate crimes in India over the last decade took place under Narendra Modi's rule. Modi himself, as many suspect, provided implicit support to the Gujarat riots in 2002 and was even banned from travelling to the United States for doing so.
Just to mention a few specific cases, in 2019, Tabrez Ansari, Muslim youth in Jharkhand, was beaten up and then murdered by a Hindu mob. A few days later, Hafeez Mohammed Haldar, a teacher who taught at a Muslim seminary was thrown out of a running train. Just a few weeks ago, a 22-year-old Muslim youth, Rahul Khan was beaten to death. Recently, some youth from Bangalore released an app that fake-auctioned Muslim women on the internet. Simply google and you will find countless similar cases.
But such religious hatred is nothing new in the subcontinent and can be dated back to the British rules: the original sinners of 'divide and rule.'
The whole of the organisation, the RSS to which Modi belongs, which is the mother ship of the BJP, has long said that India should be a Hindu nation. Its ideologues have likened the Muslims of India to the Jews of Germany. And if you look at the way in which they are using Codi-19, it was very much like typhus was used against the Jews to ghettoise them, to stigmatise them.
As the soldiers revolted from the barracks against British rule in 1857, both Muslims and Hindu soldiers fought side-by-side as brothers-in-arms. Frightened at the sight of a Hindu and Muslim coalition against a common enemy, the British vowed that nothing similar would be allowed to be repeated.
So, what followed was a plethora of systemic changes under the so-called 'divide et imperial' or 'divide and rule' project that willfully engineered policies to foment divisions between the Hindu and Muslim populations of the Indian subcontinent and prevent any unified resistance against the British.
First, the British single-handedly blamed the Muslims for the revolt of 1857 and punished them severely. Muslims lands were confiscated and Muslims were kept under increased surveillance.
To make matters worse, the British created separate communal elections so that Muslim voters could vote for Muslim candidates only. To add salt to the wound, when the Indian National Congress (INC) quit office protesting Britain's declaration of war against Germany, the British appointed the unelected Muslim League in their place and overtly assisted them in exercising their unearned power while their political opponents languished in jail.
So, when it came for the wounded British Raj to leave the sub-continent, the seeds of discontent, distrust and misinformation were so deeply embedded that the Muslim League felt empowered enough to demand a separate state for Muslims. And the British Raj obliged. What followed was a bloody partition accompanied by the public display of hatred, ethnic violence, rape, riots and the massacre of minority populations across different regions in the subcontinent.
Over the next few decades, the animosity between India and Pakistan persisted and resulted in several wars, as well as, the occupation of Jammu and Kashmir. And the disdain among the Muslims and the Hindus for one another persisted as well, leading to many cases of ethnic violence like the Ayodhya massacre in 1992, following the demolition of the Babri mosque.
While other Indian governments generally steered clear of using religious hatred as a tool for power, the Modi government seems to have taken a page out of the British playbook.
Will the Prime Minister of India display a moral compass to speak these lines in public? That people behind the violence, hate crimes, the lynching of Muslims in India will be hunted down and punished. Too much to ask of a person the Supreme Court called 'a modern day Nero'?
Narendra Modi came into power in 2014 with the promise of bringing in millions of jobs, rebuilding the economy, preventing corruption and alleviating poverty. It is safe to say that they failed miserably.
Demonetisation was a catastrophic failure and the dangerous mishandling of the Coronavirus pandemic led to the death of hundreds of thousands of Indians which practically sent the economy to the dump. To make matters worse, the year-long farmers' protests took away much of the support from Narendra Modi.
While Modi bowed out of the battle, the public would remember his recent failures in the coming elections in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
How better to hide the failures of the government than to divert the attention of the public to the typical scapegoats? How better to rile up your base and sway your voters than to abdicate your responsibilities and blame it all on the Muslims?
So it's safe to say that Pooja Shakun's inflammatory declarations in the UP conference did not merely come from a misguided sense of superiority. There seems to be a more sinister motivation at work: one that would rile up the Hindu voter base, hijack the national discourse from economics to sectarian violence and divert attention from the failures of the ruling government.
Hatred has always been a tool for the powerful to divide and rule and it's quite an effective instrument. First, it was the British who sowed the seeds of long-lasting disdain in the minds of the innocent people of the subcontinent and the Modi government seems to be the most recent culprits of nurturing this divide. Because after all, just like the case of the British Raj, if the people all across the aisle stood up against the failure of the government, there would be no place left for the Modi government to hide.