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Electoral Dynamics: Modi's Intensified Rhetoric and the Future of Indian Politics

Electoral Dynamics: Modi's Intensified Rhetoric and the Future of Indian Politics

09-06-2024
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arlier in the first week of May 2024, in his home state of Gujarat, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a group of supporters dressed in saffron. He focused on a recurring electoral topic: the alleged collaboration between opposition parties and Muslims to orchestrate a national takeover. Modi stated, "The opposition alliance is encouraging Muslims to engage in 'vote jihad'. This is a novel concept, as we have previously only heard of 'love jihad' and 'land jihad'." He was alluding to a series of conspiracy theories that are Islamophobic in nature. He then underscored the reason for his audience's apprehension by saying, "I trust you all understand the implications of jihad and who it is directed against."

As India’s massive national election approaches its midpoint, with the third of seven voting phases scheduled for May 7, Prime Minister Modi’s rhetoric against Muslims is becoming increasingly intense. This development has raised concerns among analysts and even Muslims who previously supported the prime minister. They now fear that such inflammatory language could fuel physical violence against Indian Muslims.

Recently, a local leader from the opposition Samajwadi Party, Maria Alam, addressed a gathering in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. She urged Muslims to engage in a “jihad” of “votes,” emphasizing that this was the only form of “jihad” they should undertake to remove Modi from power. In response, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) criticized her use of the term “jihad” in her speech. Maria Alam later clarified to the press that by “jihad,” she meant a peaceful struggle, encouraging Muslim voter participation.

In the charged arena of Indian politics, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s words reverberate like seismic waves, shaping narratives and igniting debates. Recently, during a campaign rally, he invoked the term “vote jihad,” a phrase that has sparked both concern and controversy. Critics and opposition leaders argue that Modi’s rhetoric, seemingly aimed at India’s 200 million Muslims, poses a threat to the very fabric of the nation’s democracy. As the country braces for a tense election, with a staggering 960 million registered voters, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Modi, accused of hate speech, calls Muslims ‘infiltrators’ at the election rally

Modi’s language, however, extends beyond mere semantics. He deftly wields phrases like “infiltrators,” “invaders,” and “looters” to paint a vivid picture of the Muslim community. By equating them with “those who have more children,” he taps into a Hindu-majoritarian trope—an insidious narrative suggesting that Muslims aim to outnumber Hindus through higher birth rates. Yet, the reality is far more nuanced. Muslims constitute less than 15 percent of India’s population, and government data reveals that their fertility rate is declining faster than that of Hindus and other religious groups.

The fallout from Modi’s remarks has been swift. Opposition parties and civil society groups have raised their voices, urging the Election Commission of India to take action against what they perceive as hate speech. But Modi remains unyielding. Just days later, he doubled down, alleging a conspiracy orchestrated by the Congress—the principal opposition party—and Muslims to seize Hindu wealth. His words echo through the political landscape, leaving citizens grappling with questions of identity and belonging.
And then there’s the Instagram video-a provocative piece of campaign propaganda. In it, Muslim male raiders, portrayed as violent and greedy, pillage mediaeval India’s riches. Enter into the world of Modi, the savior, riding in to rescue the nation. The video perpetuates Modi’s claim that a Congress-led government would redistribute Hindu wealth to Muslims. But the Congress manifesto, despite former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s earlier stance, remains silent on such redistribution.

Modi doesn’t stop there. He references conspiracy theories like “love jihad,” suggesting that Muslim men marry women from other faiths to convert them to Islam. And then there’s “land jihad,” the notion that Muslims hoard land to gain control over India’s terrain. Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a Modi biographer, isn’t surprised. For him, religious polarization is woven into Modi’s DNA—a thread that has unraveled Indian democracy.

Instagram eventually took down the controversial video, but the Election Commission’s silence speaks volumes. Opposition leaders cry foul, demanding Modi’s disqualification from campaigning. Pramod Tiwari, a Congress legislator, minces no words: “Modi has disgraced the dignity of the PM post.” Democracy hangs in the balance, and the election commission’s slumber raises eyebrows.

As the battle for India’s soul rages on, one thing is clear: being a Muslim in India today feels like being a prisoner of identity, Al Jazeera sought the BJP’s response, but silence prevailed—a silence that echoes across the nation, leaving voters to ponder the fate of their democracy.

Modi's hate speech sparks criticism

In a recent election rally in the western state of Rajasthan, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made inflammatory remarks about Muslims, referring to them as "infiltrators." His statements have drawn fierce criticism for peddling anti-Muslim tropes and violating election rules that prohibit candidates from engaging in activities that aggravate religious tensions. The opposition party, Congress, swiftly filed a complaint with the Election Commission of India,
seeking action against Modi's hate speech.

Critics argue that Modi's rhetoric reflects a broader trend of religious intolerance under his leadership. Since coming to power in 2014, his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has faced accusations of undermining India's tradition of diversity and secularism. Incidents of violence against minorities have escalated, with Muslims often targeted by Hindu mobs over allegations related to beef consumption or cow smuggling, an animal considered sacred by Hindus.

Amnesty International has expressed concern about the consequences of Modi's remarks, emphasizing the need for accountability. However, the Election Commission's response has fallen short, condoning incitement and hostility rather than addressing it effectively. An engineer, a seasoned observer of communal violence, warns that such speeches and rallies can ignite violence even in areas known for inter-religious harmony.

Modi's shift from portraying himself as a victim of opposition attacks to instilling a collective victimhood in the entire Hindu community is significant. This aligns with the ultimate goal of the Hindu nationalist movement, where all Hindus are perceived as victims, necessitating a strong state that suppresses democratic institutions, freedom of speech, and religious freedom.

BJP’s complex landscape

Recent research indicates that Muslim support for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in certain regions of India has seen a gradual increase. From less than 5 percent in 2012, it has now surpassed 9 percent in 2022, particularly in Uttar Pradesh—the country’s largest and politically crucial state.

However, even among Indian Muslims who have aligned with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, vulnerability persists. Mukhopadhyay, Modi’s biographer, observes that Modi continues to target Muslims. This reality became evident in the case of Usman Ghani, a young political leader from Rajasthan. Ghani, once a member of the BJP’student wing, rose to prominence as the district’s minority-wing president. During a recent state election campaign, he welcomed Modi. Yet, when confronted by voters about Modi’s divisive remarks against the community, Ghani dismissed them as “nonsense.” Consequently, he faced expulsion from the party and was even detained by local police in the BJP-ruled state.

Mukhopadhyay aptly describes Modi as a larger-than-life figure within the Hindutva movement—an individual whose prominence overshadows the collective organization. This paradoxical situation challenges the Sangh (RSS) family’s principle that no individual should surpass the organization itself.
Meanwhile, a New Delhi-based political commentator, requesting anonymity due to potential repercussions, suggests that Modi’s emphasis on anti-Muslim sentiments may stem from lower-than-usual voter turnout during the initial phases of the national election. With waning enthusiasm for Modi’s economic development narrative, polarization becomes a strategic tool.

Despite pressing issues such as soaring unemployment, widening income disparities, and democratic setbacks, polls consistently position Modi as the frontrunner for a third term. In 2014, the mandate centered on development; in 2019, it revolved around nationalism. Now, in 2024, Modi appears confident that his polarizing campaign will secure victory. Unfortunately, anti-Muslim rhetoric remains at the core of the BJP’s electoral strategy.

References:

01 Biswas, Soutik. (2024, May 10). India election: Modi's divisive campaign rhetoric raises questions. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-68982352

02 Tripathi, Salil. (2024, April 19). With India’s election in full swing, Narendra Modi is getting desperate – and dangerous. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/ 2024/ apr/ 29/ india -election -narendra -modi -anti -muslim- rhetoric

03 DOMINGUEZ, GABRIEL. (2024, April 15). For Modi, the Indian election is less about winning and more about by how much. The Japan Times. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2024/04/15/asia- pacific/ politics/ india -election -modi -preview/

04 Apoorvanand. (2024, April 24). Modi wants to turn India’s election into a Hindu-Muslim war. Aljazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2024/4/24/modi-wants-to-turn-the-election-into-a-hindu-muslim-war

05 Upadhye, Keshav. (2024, May 13).PM Modi’s ‘potion’ in the interest of the Muslims. The Times of India. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/voices/pm-modis-potion-in-the-interest-of-the-muslims/

06 Aquil Ahmad, Shaikh. (2024, May 12). The Depoliticized Idea of Modi's Governmentality. Brighter Kashmir. http://brighterkashmir.com/the-depoliticized-idea-of-modis-governmentality
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Masud Rana
Masud Rana is a political analyst specializing in South Asian politics, with a particular focus on India. His expertise extends to Indo-Pacific studies, providing insightful perspectives on the geopolitical dynamics of the region
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