At a time when the country is reeling under a pandemic and when the economy is failing miserably, some news channels in India are raking up communal issues again. On June 15, 2020, News 18 India, a mainstream Hindi news channel aired a primetime show titled Aar Paar with the topic, “Barson baad Ayodhya ki aas hui poori, sant kahein Kashi-Mathura kyun rahe adhuri (Only years later the desire for the Ayodhya temple was fulfilled, why should the Kashi-Mathura temples be left behind, ask saints)?”

The show is hosted by Amish Devgan who is known to be a serial hate offender. Earlier last month, a police complaint was filed against him for spreading fake news of Muslims offering namaaz at the Kurla Masjid in Mumbai amid the lockdown. After the news was proven to be false, he issued a 30-second apology to his viewers for the incident.

Amish had earlier also said that the Delhi violence that took place in February, were “religiously motivated” while insinuating that the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protestors had a part to play in the matter.

It must be noted, that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been rallying – “Ayodhya toh jhaanki hai, Kashi-Mathura baaki hai (Ayodhya is just a trailer, Kashi Mathura are left to be ours)” for years. The slogan signifies the rally for taking down mosques in Kashi and Mathura. In Varanasi, the Kashi Vishwanath temple shares its boundary wall with the Gyanvapi mosque and in Mathura, the Shahi Idgah is located right next to the Krishna Janmabhoomi temple complex.

Background of the show

The show’s host Amish Devgan, started out saying that the topic picked up for debate was not based on religious matters but on legal aspects. The panelists on his show, were Sudhanshu Trivedi – BJP MP, Mahant Naval Kishore Das, Peace Party spokesperson Shadab Chauhan, Atiq ur Rehman – Islamic Scholar, Vinod Bansal – National spokesperson VHP and Maulana Ali Qadri.

Devgan’s show started out with the information about the Vishwa Bhadra Pujari Purohit Mahasangh (VBPPM) moving the Supreme Court to challenge the constitutional validity of the Places of Worship Act, 1991, Section 4(1) of which states “It is hereby declared that the religious character of a place of worship existing on the 15th day of August, 1947 shall continue to be the same as it existed on that day.” VBPPM had challenged the Act saying that under foreign rule, many Hindu places of worship were either desecrated, damaged or destroyed. They claimed that the Act was against the principle of Secularism and ultra vires to Article 14, 15, 25, 26 and 29(1).

In response to this move by the VBPPM, the Jamiat-Ulema-i-Hind (JUH), a Muslim NGO, moved the Supreme Court asking for it to be made party to the case to put forth the views of the Muslim community on the matter.

More on the Places of Worship Act case, may be read here.

Inciting hate

Amish said that he categorically didn’t want to turn the debate into a religious one, but was only going to talk about the legal aspects of the matter. He said he wanted to talk about what it was about the Act that the group of priests wanted to be amended. While it was expected that the panelists would keep forth their views with fervor, what was shocking was the difference in Devgan’s behaviour with panelists from different religious backgrounds and political ideologies. Devgan was ; on the one hand while he was courteous to the Mahant and those from the BJP and VHP, he didn’t let the Maulana speak, and also twisted his words out of context:

1.       He questioned those panelists siding with the Hindu seer group asking, “Muslim paksh ka kehna hai ki ye naye tareeke ki dukaan hai jo shuru kar rahe hain aap? (is this a new shop you’re trying to start?” and then went to answer his own question by saying that the Muslims had already opened their ‘shop of fear’ by filing the petition against the VBPPM saying that the religious places of worship of the Muslims would be in jeopardy if the Act is amended.

2.       He then cut short Maulana Ali Qadri who was saying that the raking up of the issue by VBPPM was nothing short of a ploy to hide the failures of the BJP which had miserably failed in its governance during the lockdown. Stopping Maulana Qadri midway, Devgan questioned that if that was the case, wasn’t the JUH’s filing a petition also aiding in hiding the BJP’s shortcomings?

Devgan then requested VHP’s Vinod Bansal to respond to Maulana Qadri saying, “Maulana Ali Qadri keh rahe hain ki aap log ashanti failana chahte hain… (Maulana Ali Qadri is saying it is you people who are trying to destroy peace..”

In reality however, Maulana Ali Qadri had never used the word ‘ashanti’ but only said that the ruling government and its allies should focus on development and not create communal hatred, because by doing so, it would only create roadblocks in the path to progress.

3.       When Bansal said, “Jiske mann mein ashanti ho, jiske tan mein ashanti ho aur jiske dharm mein ashanti ho, woh ashanti ki hi baat karega (If unrest resides in a person’s heart, body and religion, that person will talk about destruction of peace,” Devgan did not retort to that provocation.

Devgan also didn’t stop Bansal when he was talking about properties being given to the Wakf Board after 1947 and said, “Ye saara ka saara inka aur inke baap ka hai? (Are all these properties belonging to them and their father?”

4.       Shadab Chauhan, a member of the Peace Party who had filed a review petition in the Ayodhya case, was reprimanded for saying that he would not tolerate the saffron colour (zafrani colour) would be insulted by any thug. Amish unleashed his rage at Shadab saying that he couldn’t call the seers as thugs. He asked Shadab to “shut up” and asked him to not “cross his limits” and in true anchor fashion asked his team to cut off his audio. He was asked to also “get out”. Yes, if Shadab hurt religious sentiments, he should’ve apologized, but the way Devgan moderated the debate against him was also questionable.

He went on a tirade saying that the seers were the patrons of the Hindus and making probably making a reference to the Palghar lynching of two seers, he said, “Maharashtra mein maar denge? Aap gaali de denge? Aise hi chalega ka kya? (You will kill them in Maharashtra, abuse them? Is this the way it’s going to be?”

It must be noted that the Palghar lynchings were categorically established to not be a communal incident by the Maharashtra government authorities. However, Devgan’s pinning of this incident in a debate like this, just goes to show that he clearly wanted to incite communal sentiments.

5.       In the context of history, Sudhanshu Trivedi recounted the so called assaults by the Mughals upon the people of India and then moved on to make a frivolous claim saying that once the complete mapping of the human genome is done, none of India’s Muslims will be found to have the DNA of Arabs, Mongols or Turks. Taking the names of Zakir Naik, Shadab Chauhan and many others he asked them to come out of the mindset of slavery (to the Mughals) and accept their culture (Hindu).

6.       Devgan once again tilted the debate to religion when Maulana Qadri responded to Trivedi’s claim by saying not all Muslims in India were converted Muslims. Devgan retorted to this saying that if someone had changed their religion, he wouldn’t have done it out of choice. He also went on to cite the Bhagwad Gita saying that the religious scripture stated that whoever changed his religion, was doomed for life.

Why holding such shows is dangerous 

A look at the comments on the YouTube video will remind one of the hateful words and thoughts against the minorities that were spoken earlier during the Ayodhya land dispute.

The comments talk of the majority being in danger, words that have long been said by the BJP, RSS and VHP.

The comments also issue blatant threats, addressing Muslims as ‘jihadis’.

At a time when there are issues related to the economy, plight of migrants, deviation of environmental laws, appropriation of indigenous lands and crime during lockdown among others, why is it necessary for someone like Amish Devgan to pick a topic related to communal sentiments, make it highly sensational given his style of hosting and then claim that he wanted to discuss the legal aspect of it? In the 52 minutes that the show ran for, not one minute was taken to discuss the legal issue. His outlook reeks of hypocrisy and is evident of a partisan ideology.

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