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Modi wants to turn the election into a Hindu-Muslim war

In Opinions, World
April 24, 2024

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have decided that they will contest this seven-phase national election as champions of Hindu interests. They have also made it clear that protecting Hindu interests means protecting them from Muslims.

According to them, the Hindu majority face danger as the opposition Congress party is conspiring with the Muslim community to rob them of their wealth and entitlements and hand them over to Muslims.

On Sunday, the prime minister told a rally in Rajasthan that if the opposition comes to power, it will take Hindus’ wealth and give it to those “who have more children”, clearly referring to Muslims. He then went on to call the Muslim community “infiltrators”.

Modi’s comments caused outrage in some quarters. Citizens and organisations from across the country have asked the Election Commission of India (ECI) to take action against him for his hate speech.

The rights group People’s Union of Civil Liberties has even demanded that Modi be disqualified from contesting elections for that overt communal incitement.

These reactions did not result in any change of rhetoric; in fact, the prime minister doubled down two days later.

On Tuesday, in his address at another election rally in Rajasthan, Modi once again claimed that the Congress was conspiring to take the wealth of Hindus and distribute it among “select” people.

To ensure that there was no ambiguity, Modi went on to suggest that the Congress was going to take away the share of reservations – or quotas in education, employment, government schemes etc – for backward classes, scheduled castes, and tribal people and give it to Muslims. This was a clear attempt to scare the backward and Dalit sections of the Hindu electorate into voting for the BJP.

Also on Tuesday, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh state Yogi Adityanath said the Congress wanted to implement Islamic law. This was a clear attempt to raise the scars of the Islamisation of India.

Modi is considered an expert in dog-whistling. He has mastered the art of insulting, mocking, and attacking Muslims without uttering the word Muslim.

For example, during his time as chief minister of Gujarat state in 2002, riots took place that evicted thousands of Muslims from their homes and forced them into relief camps. When the state government started demolishing these camps and faced criticism over it, Modi said he could not allow “children-producing factories” to operate.

Without uttering the word Muslim, he said these were people whose motto was “We are five, ours are 25”. That referred to Muslim men supposedly marrying four times and having 25 children.

In his subsequent speeches, he continued pitting Hindus against Muslims with the help of innuendos, such as “pink revolution” (non-vegetarianism) and “white revolution” (vegetarianism) or graveyards (referring to the Muslim burial practices) and crematoriums (referring to the Hindu practice of burning remains).

In Sunday’s speech, Modi directly referred to Muslims as “those who produce more children” and “infiltrators”, evoking a sinister conspiracy theory that the Muslims are outsiders and aim to outnumber the Hindu majority.

The prime minister is clearly playing a dangerous game, turning the election into a war between Hindus and Muslims, and the BJP is openly calling itself the party of Hindus. It is not wrong to conclude from his speech that he has accepted that his voters are only Hindus. Other leaders of his party have made that clear as well. Last year, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma declared that he did not want the votes of Miya (Bengali-speaking Muslims).

Some analysts feel that the BJP has become desperate as it has not received the expected support in the first phase of the elections. This desperation has driven it to try its old formula of Hindu polarisation by generating the fear of a Muslim takeover of India.

But if we look at Modi’s speeches since the beginning of this election campaign, we can see that right from the start, he has been giving statements that portray the opposition parties as anti-Hindu. For example, he said the Congress manifesto bore the “imprint of the Muslim League”, referring to the political party founded under British colonialism to secure Muslim rights.

He also claimed that the opposition leaders had the mindset of Mughals, India’s 16-18th century Muslim rulers, and that they insulted Hindus by eating fish during sacred Hindu occasions and eating meat during the Hindu holy month of Sawan. He said they do so to please their “own” voters. Who can these voters be but Muslims?

That the opposition leaders are indulging in anti-Hindu practices to appease Muslims is a completely absurd assertion given that the opposition also needs Hindu votes and cannot afford to do anything to alienate them. But lack of logic has not stopped Modi and the BJP from repeating these claims in an attempt to provoke Hindus against Muslims.

This is a clear violation of the ECI’s Model Code of Conduct, according to which, no one is allowed to solicit votes or campaign on religious or communal grounds.

It is also a violation of the People’s Representative Act, which treats communal propaganda as a crime. The law says, “Appeals by a candidate, or any other person with the consent of a candidate, to vote or refrain from voting on the ground of his religion, race, caste, community or language is a corrupt electoral practice.” If found guilty under this provision, an individual can face up to six years in jail.

It was this provision of the Act that led to a six-year election ban in 1999 on Bal Thackeray, the founder of the Shiv Sena party, over his attempts at communal incitement.

Despite calls for action to stem the BJP’s use of inciting speech in the ongoing elections, the ECI has been completely silent on the issue. That is because it is a compromised body.

In December, the BJP managed to push legislation through parliament that changed the composition of the selection committee tasked with appointing election commissioners. Earlier the chief justice of India (CJI) was part of it, along with the prime minister and the leader of the opposition. Now the CJI has been replaced with a minister to be selected by the prime minister.

That is how the ECI lost its independence. It has been behaving like a government body ever since, issuing notices to the opposition leaders for small lapses and taking no action on grave violations by the leaders of the BJP. This effectively means that elections in India are also compromised.

As BJP’s inciting campaign continues, Muslims are being advised by their well-wishers not to react as it will make Hindus gravitate towards the BJP. Muslims are keeping quiet, but so are the ECI and the courts. In this deafening silence, we are mourning the death of democracy in India.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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