India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has removed its social media head in the northern state of Haryana for an allegedly anti-Islam tweet five years ago, but Indian Muslims are demanding that Arun Yadav be arrested.
In the 2017 tweet, Yadav likened the Kaaba, the Muslim shrine in Mecca’s Great Mosque, to an ice cube in a glass of whiskey.
In the first week of July, when some online activists and Muslim leaders called attention to the five-year-old tweet and demanded legal action against Yadav, the BJP removed him on July 7.
“Arun Yadav’s abusive comment targeting the Kaaba hurt the religious sentiment of all Muslims. The community across the country demanded that he is arrested and tried in court for his dirty depiction of Islam's holiest place,” Syed Azharuddin, a Muslim leader in the southern state of Telangana, told VOA.
“But to our disappointment, the government is showing no sign it will act against Yadav,” he said.
Before Narendra Modi became India’s prime minister in 2014, his party set up social media wings, known as information technology or IT cells, across the country, aiming to propagate its ideology and political messages, and to expand popular support.
These cells have in recent years been blamed for spreading propaganda against opposition party leaders. Social media fact-checkers have frequently exposed fake news materials, allegedly spread by the BJP’s IT cell network.
Online activists and Muslim community leaders have long accused the cells of spreading Islamophobia on social media platforms. By posting aggressive anti-Islam or anti-Muslim content, many BJP IT cell workers, including top executives, aim to improve their political profiles within the party, Muslim community leaders said.
“Many from the BJP IT cell frequently post anti-Muslim content that is liked by the leaders and followers of the Hindu nationalist party. Such posts abuse the Prophet Muhammad, Kaaba Sharif [Holy Kaaba] etc., and insult the religious beliefs of Muslims. Yet, to gain popularity among a good number of Hindu community members, those like Arun Yadav post content abusing and attacking Muslims,” the president of Tipu Sultan Party, a political party, Shaikh Sadeque, told VOA.
Yadav’s firing was just a BJP action, nothing was done by the government for the “blasphemous” post, Sadeque said.
“The Indian government also did not act against BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma for abuses she aimed at the Prophet Muhammad. The government does not want to take action against any BJP leader for any of their anti-Muslim statements or comments, so, they keep posting such abusive content fearlessly.”
BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma allegedly insulted Muhammad in a May television appearance, sparking international condemnation. She was suspended from the party.
VOA sought a reaction from the BJP IT cell following the allegation against Yadav but emails sent to the cell’s national head, Amit Malviya, have remained unanswered.
There are hundreds of past instances of social media users being arrested in India for hurting religious sentiments. Perhaps the most sensational among them is the recent arrest of journalist and fact-checker Mohammed Zubair. Police accused him of insulting Hindu beliefs in a 2018 tweet.
“Zubair was arrested for a tweet carrying a screen grab of a movie scene which showed a hotel signboard repainted from ‘Honeymoon Hotel’ to ‘Hanuman Hotel.’ The tweet of Yadav was certainly more abusive. Yet he has not been arrested,” Muslim leader Azharuddin said. Hanuman refers to a monkey god revered by Hindus.
The BJP routinely uses anti-Muslim propaganda to polarize the Hindu society and to unite Hindus by identifying Muslims as “the other, an outsider, an enemy,” New Delhi-based Muslim leader Zafarul Islam Khan told VOA.
“They can go on doing this because, under the current dispensation, they enjoy full immunity. The victims [Muslims] have no recourse — the government, bureaucracy and police do not listen to them,” Khan said.
“Even courts are not keen to listen to the victims or are not taking the matters seriously. The victims find no one around to turn to for justice.”
Activists say the BJP and other Hindu right-wing organizations, including the RSS, or Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, work in tandem, attacking the religious minorities and making them appear as threats to the majority community or the Hindus. The RSS is also known as the ruling party’s ideological guide.
Delhi University teacher Apoorvanand said the “life breath of the RSS and BJP is anti-Muslim and anti-Christian prejudice and hatred.”
“To keep it alive and make it part of the lives of Hindus they have to keep creating images of Muslims which look abhorrent to Hindus. They have to manufacture stories and events which paint Muslims as horrible creatures, their living practices as ugly, unclean, backward, conservative… and Muslims as a collective always conspiring against Hindus,” Apoorvanand told VOA.
“By keeping Hindus fed with this hatred the RSS and BJP want to turn them into their unquestioning followers as if it is only the RSS/BJP which can protect them from Muslims and keep Muslims in their place,” he said.