Rumors, they say, fuel the riots. India has a long and bloody history of proving the adage in its postcolonial existence, from partition in 1947 to the most recent riots in northeast Delhi in February 2020 ~ marked throughout by scathing tales of politicians too many to list.
On the other side of the world, in January of this year, Donald Trump was accused of giving an inflammatory speech to supporters alleging voter fraud in the U.S. presidential election and urging them to march on Capitol Hill where the Congress certified the victory of President Joe Biden. , telling them to “fight like hell”.
There are multiple examples in the world of the left and the right of such verbal abuse. In short, there is a clear causal link between incitement to violence in the real world and virulent hate speech targeting individuals and / or communities. Political leaders of all parties in India now regularly use violent rhetoric to demonize their opponents. Bengal is a classic example with the Congressional leaders of Trinamool and the BJP, the two main actors in the state, using language against each other, which should be unacceptable in a civilized country.
It is, of course, difficult to trace a leader’s statement back to later events. Research, however, suggests that inflammatory rhetoric from leaders not only makes political violence more likely, but it gives direction to violence, complicates law enforcement responses, and increases fear in vulnerable communities.
Writing about this phenomenon in the United States, Daniel L. Byman argues that part of the problem is that politicians’ remarks do not fade once they are made.
The inflammatory rhetoric of leaders against their opponents is often quickly amplified ~ it stimulates coverage of traditional media platforms, provides a signal to local leaders and is amplified by social media.
Citizens also play an important role in spreading the message, sharing it with friends and family, thus shifting the ‘Overton window’ signaling that an issue is now the subject of acceptable discourse when, in the past, discussing it might have been taboo. Leaders such as former Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani have condemned this trend of demonizing political opponents repeatedly and publicly during the 1980s and 1990s when the powerful leftist intellectual establishment, aided and abetted by Congress, turned to the BJP and its allied outfits with a nastiness now matched by its booming right-wing counterpart.
Mr. Advani even tried, by symbolic gestures, to distinguish between ideological and political adversaries and to label opponents as enemies by going in person to pay a final tribute to the faithful of the CPI-M EMS Namboodiripad. Unfortunately, it turned out to be just a straw in the wind.
Targeting and demonizing political opponents, while this does not change attitudes, encourages individuals to express and act based on pre-existing views that they once had hidden. The results are there for everyone in West Bengal.