Modi’s Muslim remarks spark ‘hate speech’ accusations as India’s mammoth election deepens divides

By Rhea Mogul, CNN

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of delivering Islamophobic remarks during an election rally Sunday, triggering widespread anger from prominent Muslims and members of the opposition.

The world’s most populous nation is in the midst of a mammoth weeks-long election in which Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is widely expected to secure a rare third consecutive term.

Speaking in front of a large crowd in the country’s western Rajasthan state, Modi said if voted into power, the country’s main opposition, the Indian National Congress, would distribute the country’s wealth among “infiltrators” and “those who have more children,” in apparent reference to the Muslim community.

“When they (the Congress) were in power, they said Muslims have first right over resources. They will gather all your wealth and distribute it among those who have more children. They will distribute among infiltrators,” Modi said to thunderous roars from the audience.

“Do you think your hard-earned money should be given to infiltrators? Would you accept this?” Modi said.

Those remarks have been seized on by the opposition, who have long accused Modi and the BJP of using divisive rhetoric to turbo-charge their increasingly popular brand of Hindu nationalism.

Opposition members have called on the Election Commission of India (ECI) to investigate whether Modi’s comments break the body’s code of conduct.

The code states politicians must not appeal to voters based on “caste” and “communal feelings.” Activity which “may aggravate differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension” between communities and religions, is also not allowed.

CNN has contacted the ECI for comment.

Modi received widespread backlash from members of the Muslim community for his comments at a time when many fear a third BJP term will deepen the communal fissures already running through the country.

“This is not a dogwhistle, this is a targeted, direct, brazen hate speech against a community,” prominent Muslim journalist Rana Ayyub wrote on X.

Muslim lawmaker and president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen, Asaduddin Owaisi, said: “Modi today called Muslims infiltrators and people with many children. Since 2002 till this day, the only Modi guarantee has been to abuse Muslims and get votes.”

Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge described Modi’s comments as “hate speech” and “a well thought out ploy to divert attention.”

“Today the prime minister did what he has learnt from the values of the Sangh,” referring to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) a right-wing Hindu paramilitary organization, which Modi was once a youth member of and to which the BJP is affiliated with. “In the history of India, no prime minister has lowered the dignity of his post as much as Modi has.”

Modi swept to power in 2014 on a promise of development and anti-corruption, rising in popularity during his term and getting re-elected five years later – the second time on a more openly Hindu nationalist ticket.

Over the last decade, Modi and his BJP have been accused of driving religious polarization with their Hindu nationalist policies, giving rise to a wave of Islamophobia and deadly communal clashes in the world’s largest secular democracy.

India’s minority Muslim population is enormous – some 230 million people – and Muslims have lived in what is now modern India for centuries. But a false conspiracy voiced by some Hindu nationalists is to accuse Muslims of being somehow outsiders and spreading a false narrative that they are displacing the country’s Hindu population by deliberately having large families.

The BJP has repeatedly said it does not discriminate based on religion and treats all citizens equally.

But research, reporting and rights groups say divisions have increased in the country of 1.4 billion people.

Anti-Muslim speech has risen dramatically, a recent report by the Washington-based research group India Hate Lab showed, which documented 668 such cases in 2023. Of these cases, 75% took place in BJP-ruled states, the report said.

India prohibits hate speech under several sections of its penal code, including a section which criminalizes “deliberate and malicious acts” intended to insult religious beliefs, but rights groups say there is a lack of immediate and adequate action against the alleged perpetrators of such acts, giving right-wing extremists tacit support.

Related Articles

Back to top button