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FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 2014

I
mpending elections invariably colour a govern-
ments actions. Whether the ling of a charge
sheet for hate speech against Bharatiya Janata
Party president Amit Shah just two days before
by-elections to 11 Assembly seats and one Lok Sabha seat
in Uttar Pradesh is politically motivated, is a moot ques-
tion. The charge sheet against Mr. Shah was returned by
the court, lending greater force to the BJPs allegation
that the entire exercise was a desperate measure by the
Akhilesh Yadav government in the face of a likely defeat
for the ruling Samajwadi Party in the by-elections. How-
ever, the questions raised by the case against Mr. Shah
go far beyond the concerns of the immediate elections
and relate to issues of freedom of speech, incitement of
violence, religious sensibilities and corrupt practices.
Mr. Shah, during the Lok Sabha election campaign in
April, called for avenging the Muzaffarnagar communal
riots, prompting the Election Commission to initially
ban him from campaigning. The BJP insists this was not
incitement to violence, but only an appeal to avenge the
riots through the ballot box. Even on this interpretation,
Mr. Shahs call for avenging the riots implied that a vote
for the BJP would be an act of revenge for the Hindu
victims of the communal riots. Whether the sections of
the IPC invoked in the charge sheet relating to promot-
ing enmity between different groups on grounds of reli-
gion, malicious acts intended to outrage religious
feelings, and false statements circulated with intent to
cause offence against public peace, would stand judicial
scrutiny remains to be seen, but Mr. Shah clearly cross-
ed the lines of political propriety during the campaign.
The BJP leader seemed quite close to attracting the
provision of the Representation of the People Act that
denes an appeal to vote for any person on the ground of
religion as a corrupt practice.
The Election Commission rightly rescinded its ban on
Mr. Shah following an apology but, not surprisingly, the
case seems to have got a second wind now with another
rise in the political temperature in Uttar Pradesh. If the
Samajwadi Party government has timed the charge
sheet to coincide with the by-elections, then the BJP is
surely encouraging its Member of Parliament Yogi Ad-
ityanath to make provocative statements that could
make Mr. Shah uncomfortable. Despite the district ad-
ministration cancelling permission for his meeting, Mr.
Adityanath went ahead with his rally in a communally
sensitive area. Clearly, no matter what its defence of Mr.
Shahs remarks, the BJP is intent on adopting the poli-
tics of provocation in Uttar Pradesh. Polarisation on
religious lines may pay short-term political dividends
but it will do grievous harm to the social fabric.
Politics of
polarisation