Last week, as advocate and BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay stood in the Supreme Court arguing for his own petition on hate speech, he must have remembered that not-so-distant afternoon at Jantar Mantar, less than 3km away, where, at an event reportedly organized by him, open genocide calls were made against Muslims, or, the Dharm Sansad in Haridwar, where he distributed copies of ‘Bhagwa Samvidhaan’ and referred to Yati Narsinghanand as his ‘Gurudev’.

Upadhyay filing a public interest litigation (PIL) in the apex court for implementing the Law Commission report to curtail hate speech is a case of mind-boggling irony; one that requires what Samuel Taylor Coleridge called willing suspension of disbelief, to fathom; one that is so bizarre and brazen that as a journalist writing on it, you wonder if you are missing something.

In February 2020, Upadhyay filed a PIL in the apex court in his personal capacity seeking a direction to the Centre to take appropriate steps to implement recommendations of the Law Commission’s 267th report on hate speech. The commission had submitted its report to the erstwhile minister for law and justice Ravi Shankar Prasad on March 23, 2017. After analyzing the existing laws on hate speech, it recommended “amendments to the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the Code of Criminal procedure, 1973 by adding new provisions on ‘Prohibiting incitement to hatred following section 153B IPC and ‘causing fear, alarm or provocation of violence in certain cases’ following section 505 IPC, and accordingly amending the First Schedule of the CrPC.”

On page 38, the report defines hate speech as an “expression which is abusive, insulting, intimidating, harassing or which incites violence, hatred or discrimination against groups identified by characteristics such as one’s race, religion, place of birth, residence, region, language, caste or community, sexual orientation or personal convictions.”

On September 21, 2022, while hearing the PIL by Upadhyay along with 10 other petitions, a division bench of Justices K M Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy came down heavily on TV channels and news anchors saying that hate speech on television goes unregulated and poisons the fabric of the country.

During the hearing, the Bench asked who had given the hate speeches. “Politicians,” Upadhyay replied.

It is not clear whether Updhayay included himself among them.

‘Thook Jihad’ & ‘Jansankhya Jihad’

In order to see for itself how politicians and anchors throw all sensibilities and journalistic ethics to the wind on TV shows and vilify groups identified by religion, the court needs to look no further than Upadhyay’s comments made on news anchor Aman Chopra’s show on News18 India titled ‘Desh Nahi Jhukne Denge’ on November 16, 2021. According to this Newslaundry article the video of the show uploaded on YouTube was taken down the next day. The one-hour programme centred on the allegation that Indian Muslims were spitting into food they were making. It used kickers like ‘Khane mein thookna, jihad ya jahalat?’, or, ‘Riwaaz-e-thook, ye kaisi bhookh?’, and the hashtag #ThookJihad.

Appearing as a guest in the show Upadhyay suggested that Muslims were not only spitting, but might be urinating in the food as well. “Ye bhi toh ho sakta hai ki dal ka rang peela hota hai, sabzi ka rang peela hota hai, usme pishaab bhi kar rahe ho?.” (There is a possibility that they are urinating in the food as well, and that’s why daal is yellow in colour and sabzi is also yellow in colour), he said. A few minutes later in the programme, he went on to say, “In thook jihadiyon ko ya toh maa baap sikha rahe hai ya koi school mein jaa rahe hai” (Either the parents are training these ‘thook jihadis’ or they are going to some schools). The Wire also reported Upadhyay’s comments.

On YouTube, Alt News found another video of a show called ‘Rashtradharm’ posted by ‘News Nation’ in which Upadhyay talks about ‘jansankhya (population) jihad‘.

In his introductory words, the anchor, Vidyanath Jha, refers to an alleged PFI document, and asks, “Will India become an Islamic state by 2047?” Appearing in the show as an expert, Upadhyay first gives his version of the history of Partition. When the anchor asks what is the blueprint for converting India into an Islamic state? In his reply, Upadhyay first talks about infiltration of Rohingyas through the Bengal border. “To change the demography of this country, around 5 crore Rohingyas and Bangladeshis have entered India as of 2017.” Upadhayay says. This is, incidentally, a piece of misinformation that Alt News had debunked in September 2018. The report can be read here.

At the 7.01-minute mark in the video the anchor asks Upadhyay if he is talking about ‘Jansankhya Jihad’? Upadhyay replies, “Absolutely. This is Jansankhya Jihad.” The anchor then asks Upadhyay to further explain how this ‘population jihad’ will convert India into a Muslim-majority country by 2047.

“In 75 years, Hindus have been finished in nine Indian states,” Upadhyay claims in his response, though when he lists those, he names only five — Ladakh, Lakshadweep, Mizoram, Nagaland and Meghalaya. Ironically, in three of the five states/UTs he mentions, the Muslim population is smaller than that of the Hindus.

That India will become a Muslim-majority nation within a particular year is an idea often shared on social media. This Mint article calls it a piece of ‘fiction’, and using data from the National Family Health Survey conducted in 2015-16, shows that such claims are without any basis.

Who is Ashwini Upadhyay?

According to this Boom Live article, Upadhyay is an engineer by qualification who quit his corporate job and joined the Anna Hazare movement in 2011-12. He was one of the founding members of the Aam Aadmi Party, but was expelled from the party on April 6, 2014, after he had allegedly called Arvind Kejriwal ‘a liar’. In November, he joined the BJP and was later appointed its Delhi spokesperson.

Upadhyay, 47, who had worked with senior barristers like Ram Jethmalani and Prashant Bhushan, filed his first PIL in 2015 seeking a uniform civil code. Dismissing the petition, the then Chief Justice of India TS Thakur warned him against wasting the court’s time. Undaunted by the censure, he has since filed around 50 PILs in the apex court and Delhi High Court, most of which are aligned with the interest of the RSS-BJP. This article in The Print describes him as the ‘uncrowned king of political interest litigation.’

In March, 2021, he filed a PIL in the Supreme Court seeking immediate steps for identification, detainment and deportation of all illegal immigrants and infiltrators, including Bangladeshis and Rohingyas.

In a recent interview with India Today, he said, “There are only three ways of solving your country’s problems: Sadak (street protest), Sansad (Parliament) and Supreme Court. I had been part of a street protest. Such movements do not take place every day. The Anna Andolan happened over three decades after India saw the JP movement. It was difficult for me to enter Parliament. I joined the BJP and chose the Supreme Court route to solve the country’s problems.”

Hate Speech Given at Rally ‘Organized’ by Upadhyay

Upadhyay was arrested along with five others on August 10, 2021, two days after hate speeches were delivered at a meeting reportedly organized by him at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar. He was charged under Sections 268, 270, 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc. and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony) and Section 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) of the Indian Penal Code, Section 3 of The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, and Section 51B of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 (refusal to comply with any direction given by the government). He was granted bail the very next day.

Frontline reported in detail the kind of slogans raised at the rally. According to it, hundreds of people attended the rally, and slogans like ‘Jab mulle kate jayenge, Ram Ram chillayenge’ (Muslims will be cut in the name of Ram), ‘Suaron ki karo vidai, Hindu Hindu bhai bhai’ (Farewell to the pigs, Hindus are brothers), ‘Hindustan mein rehna hoga, Ram Ram kehna hoga’ (If you want to live in India, you have to chant Ram! Ram!) and ‘Band karo band karo, mullo ke vyapaar band karo’ (Shut down the businesses of Muslims) were raised in front of media crew and Delhi Police personnel.

Anmol Pritam, a 24-year-old journalist then working for a YouTube channel, was heckled by the crowd and forced to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’.

Speaking to Newslaundry (report here), Pritam said he had he reached the site around 3 pm along with his cameraperson. “When I reached, a group of about 300-400 people were chanting slogans such as ‘Jab mulle kaate jaynege to Ram-Ram chillayenge.”

Soon after the rally, the National Confederation of Human Rights Organizations wrote to the Minority commission “against hate-speech at Jantar Mantar which openly called for violence against Muslims.” “This poisonous event was part of a “movement”, led by former spokesperson of the BJP Delhi, Ashwini Upadhyay,” the panel wrote in a tweet.

The Delhi High Court Women Lawyers’ Forum condemned the rally and wrote to the registrar general of the Supreme court against “Slogans amounting to hate speech raised at Jantar Mantar in a rally organised by Advocate Ashwini Upadhyaya”.

In his defense, Upadhyay said he did not know the people who raised the slogans and he had left the venue and the meeting had been over by the time the incendiary slogans were raised. He also said he was just a guest at the rally. A tweet that he later deleted, however, suggests otherwise. In it, he thanked everyone who attended the rally and exhorted them to organize similar programmes in their respective cities. (Archive Link)

He had also made an image from the Jantar Mantar rally his profile picture on Twitter, but he later deleted that as well. (Archive Link)

This Times of India report quoted Delhi Police as saying, “Upadhyay had mentioned Preet’s name in the application form submitted to the police before organizing the event.” Preet Singh, one of the accused, is the director of the Save India Foundation.

Upadhyay at Dharm Sansad Organized by Yati Narsinghanand

While he was out on bail in the above-mentioned case, Upadhyay took part in a Dharm Sansad organized by Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati in Uttarakhand between December 17 and 19, 2021, where, once again, open genocide calls were made against Muslims. Speaking at the meeting, he referred to Narsinghanand as his ‘Gurudev, friend and brother’ and handed over to him a copy of a book that he described on the microphone as ‘bhagwa samvidhaan’ (saffron constitution). He also said that it was shameful that he had to make a saffron constitution in Hindustan; the constitution should have always been saffron.

“The fight that Maharaj ji (Yati Narsinghanand) is fighting is not unconstitutional. In five minutes I can connect his words to the constitution,” he adds.

The theme of the meeting was ‘The Future of the Sanatan (Dharma) in Islamic India: Problem and Solutions’. According to this report in Scroll.in, Yati Narsinghanand said in his speech, “Economic boycott [against Muslims] will not work…No community can survive without picking up weapons…And swords won’t work, they look good only on stages. You need to update your weapons…More and more offsprings and better weapons, only they can protect you.”

One of the speakers, Dharmadas Maharaj, made a reference to former prime Minister Manmohan Singh and said he would have shot him six times if he was present when Singh allegedly spoke in the parliament about the right of the minorities on the national resources.

Narsinghanand, the organizer of the event and Upadhyay’s ‘Gurudev, friend and brother’, was arrested on January 15, and released on bail about three weeks later, on the condition that he would not deliver speeches that could hamper social harmony. He, however, didn’t care.

Narsinghanand is, in fact, a serial offender when it comes to delivering hate speeches. All major media houses have documented his repeated diatribes against Muslims. Examples can be found in Scroll.in, The Times of India, BBC, The Indian Express. According to this investigative report in The Wire, hate speeches by Narsinghanand and his associates played a crucial role in radicalizing rioters who eventually unleashed a bloodbath in North East Delhi in February 2020. As many as 53 people were killed in the Delhi riots that lasted four days.

Ironically, under the heading ‘An Effort to Find Solution’ on Page 47 of the report that Upadhyay wants to be implemented, the Law Commission says, “All instances of violations of freedom of expression in the context of religion and incitement of hatred resulting in violence should be condemned and prevented.”

On his Facebook page, Upadhyay has shared images of his bonhomie with Yati Narsinghanand.

Suresh Chavhanke, Upadhyay’s ‘good friend’

Observing Upadhyay’s Twitter activities, we found that he tweets regularly on the PILs he files and the related topics. We also noticed him congratulating Sudarshan News on completing 14 years and wishing its editor Suresh Chavhanke on his birthday, in separate tweets. Addressing Chavhanke as his ‘priya mitra’, Upadhyay said the editor was doing great service to ‘Maa Bharti’.

Incidentally, Sudarshan News, its editor Suresh Chavhanke and its journalists have been repeatedly accused of indulging in hate speech. Their programmes on what they called ‘UPSC jihad’, where they cast aspersions on the presence of Muslims in civil services and sought to ‘expose’ an alleged conspiracy to inject Muslims into the Indian civil services, had created a huge uproar in 2020. The information and broadcasting ministry, in an affidavit to the Supreme Court, had said that the show was ‘offensive, not in good taste and has the likelihood of promoting communal attitudes.’

Expressing concerns about the nature and content of Chavhanke’s show, Justice D Y Chandrachud had said, “Can there be something more insidious and dangerous for the stability and integrity of the nation? This also destroys the credibility of the institution of the civil services, by casting aspersions on an institution like the UPSC without any evidence.”

Alt News had done a report in August 2020 documenting Sudarshan News’s history of spreading dangerous and communally divisive misinformation.

Among the many ‘services to Maa Bharti’ done by Upadhyay’s ‘good friend’ Chavhanke, notable was him administering an oath to kill for the cause of Hindurashtra during an event organised by the Hindu Yuva Vahini on December 19, 2021 in New Delhi.

Alt News reached out to Upadhyay for his comment on the apparently irreconcilable contradictions in his public and professional life. He refused to comment.

Which Ashwini Upadhyay, then, should we take seriously?

The one who pleaded to the apex court to “direct the Centre to examine the international laws relating to hate speech and rumour mongering and take appropriate effective stringent steps to control hate speech and rumour mongering in order to secure rule of law freedom of speech and expression right to life liberty and dignity and other fundamental rights of citizens”, or the one who attended Narsinghanand’s meeting?

The one who says in his petition, “the injury to the citizens is extremely large because hate speech and rumour mongering has the potential of provoking individuals or society to commit acts of terrorism genocides ethnic cleansing etc” or the one who allegedly organized the hate-spewing rally at Jantar Mantar and was subsequently arrested?

The one who notes in his PIL that “all instances of violations of freedom of expression in the context of religion and incitement of hatred resulting in violence should be condemned and prevent it” or the one who suggests Muslims are urinating in the food?

The Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde?

Will My Lordships ask the real Ashwini Upadhyay to stand up, please?

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About the Author

Indradeep, a journalist with over 10 years' experience in print and digital media, is a Senior Editor at Alt News. Earlier, he has worked with The Times of India and The Wire. Politics and literature are among his areas of interest.