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Taliban dominates BJP’s social media campaign in Uttar Pradesh

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the various human rights violations in its wake have emerged as a focal point in the BJP’s political campaign on social media in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, with the national party mainly targeting regional outfit, the Samajwadi Party (SP), for what it alleges is its appeasement of Muslims.

A quick look at messages shared on party-run social media handles and groups on instant messaging platform WhatsApp shows that at least 30% of posts over the past two weeks have been dedicated to Taliban-related issues. They showcase Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a “strong personality” and UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s “brand of Hindutva” as the only counter to radical Islam.

The BJP has also been posting videos showing the growing humanitarian crisis in Kabul, particularly of people rushing to airports desperate to get out of the country, of jam-packed aircraft evacuating refugees, explosions that followed the Taliban’s takeover of the capital, flogging of women for improperly wearing the burqa (a body veil or outer garment worn by Muslim women) and the harassment of journalists, among others.

  • At least 30% of BJP posts in last two weeks on Taliban-related issues
  • It has widely publicised anarchy and human rights violation in Afghanistan after radical outfit took control
  • Has shared statements of SP leaders backing the acts of Taliban
  • BSP, Cong also being attacked on social media
  • Campaign projects CM Adityanath’s ‘brand of Hindutva’ as a counter to radical Islam
  • SP says BJP trying to pert attention from unemployment, lack of medical facilities

In one particular video, the state unit of the party names the defenders of “Talibani soch (thinking)” as “anti-national and traitors” who pose a threat to Indian society and its way of life.

It also extensively quotes the state chief minister on how “some shameless people (are) defending the brutalities of the Taliban.”

‘Diversionary Tactics’
Another video shows some Muslim organisations in Agra allegedly opposed to the presence of the national tricolour in mosques, while a cartoon tweeted by the state party unit shows how parties such as the SP, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Congress have allegedly endorsed Muslim gangsters and mafia.

The Taliban are a regressive force who are against youth, women and children and basic freedoms, BJP spokesperson Shalabh Mani Tripathi told ET. “And it is dangerous that we have people here who support such forces. What the party has done in the last few days is just expose these people and their thinking…,” Tripathi said.

The state unit’s social media coordinator, Ankit Chandel, said while the party has made it a point to focus on a positive campaign, it is also “aggressively looking to expose the lies of the Opposition.”

Countering the party’s claims, SP spokesperson Naved Siddiqui said by extrapolating the Taliban issue to the local context, the BJP was attempting “to make people forget the disastrous governance witnessed by the state during the Covid-19 second wave”.

“What the Taliban does is of least consequence to us. Here, people are struggling to get jobs or basic medical care. Instead of giving answers, the BJP is trying to digress from more important issues…,” Siddiqui added.

Narrative of appeasement

Political experts said the BJP has been quick to latch on to a narrative of alleged Muslim appeasement, and its social media policy sharpens the attack on the SP, BSP and the Congress on those lines, even as it stays clear of levelling corruption charges against the BSP, in order to not alienate its Dalit workers.

The anti-Taliban campaign by the BJP got a major fillip after SP member of parliament Shafiqur Rahman Barq (from Sambhal constituency) drew a parallel between India’s freedom struggle and the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, prompting the state to slap sedition charges against him.

The BJP soon shared social media posts condemning Barq’s views and those of his son, Mamluk Ur Rahman, who was also seen congratulating the Taliban.

Its state unit also criticised comments by some members of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, such as Maulana Sajjad Nomani, who allegedly praised the Taliban and termed the outfit as ‘history-makers’, as well as Maulana Umrain Mahfuz Rahmani, who tweeted that the Taliban conquered Afghanistan with the “eternal wealth of faith and belief”.

Civilisational Ties

Political analyst AK Verma, who heads the Centre for the Study of Society and Politics in Kanpur, said it was natural that the BJP was using the Taliban crisis to strengthen its position in the state, mainly because India’s connection with Afghanistan is also civilisational.

“To see terrorists taking over a neighbouring country that has been a friend to India has led to not only a communal pide but also beyond that, as with the Taliban there are major concerns about loss of freedoms. The images coming from Afghanistan are very powerful. Highlighting this works well for the BJP as it has quickly become a national security issue,” Verma said.

The majority of Muslims in the state may be opposed to the Taliban, but the few that have openly expressed support for it have ended up benefitting the BJP politically, he added.