Friday, May 24, 2024

General Election: India’s PM Modi accuses opposition of being pro-Muslim

Mr Modi’s government has repeatedly been accused of targeting and discrimination against India’s estimated 200 million Muslims, who form the world’s third-largest Muslim population.

• April 23, 2024
Narendra Modi
Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi (Photo Credit: Fortune)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist party have begun attacking opposition rivals, saying they favour minority Muslims, in what analysts see as a bid to invigorate their hardline base after general elections began last week.

India began voting on Friday in a seven-phase election at which Modi seeks a rare third consecutive term, with campaigning that had so far largely focused on his record of growth and welfare as well as his popularity.

But in a speech on Sunday, Mr Modi referred to Muslims as “infiltrators” who have “more children”, linking the comment to what he called an election plan of the main opposition Congress party to redistribute the wealth of Hindus among Muslims.

The Congress denied making any such promise and petitioned the Election Commission to act against Mr Modi, who surveys suggest will win a comfortable majority, though analysts say his party wants to avert possible voter fatigue and overconfidence.

Hilal Ahmed, a political analyst at Delhi’s Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, said the controversial remarks were an unusual “deviation” from Mr Modi’s usual practice as he rarely targets Muslims directly.

He added that they followed low voter turnout in areas where the BJP had done well in 2019.

“The low turnout simply means that the committed BJP voter has not yet come out,” Mr Ahmed said. “They obviously want the committed voter to come out. That is the reason for this deviation.”

The comment on redistribution of wealth to Muslims was supported and amplified on Monday by BJP members, including Mr Modi’s powerful cabinet colleague, Home Minister Amit Shah, who mentioned it in a campaign speech.

Mr Modi aired the claim again on Tuesday, a day after speaking about the gains Muslims have made during his 10-year rule.

In the southern state of Karnataka, half of which voted on Friday in the second phase of elections, BJP members have staged protests against last week’s murder of a Hindu woman by a Muslim man.

They say the incident is an instance of “love jihad”, a term Hindu groups use to accuse Muslim men of waging a campaign that lures Hindu women to convert to Islam with promises of marriage.

Mr Modi’s government has repeatedly been accused of targeting and discrimination against India’s estimated 200 million Muslims, who form the world’s third-largest Muslim population.

The government denied all accusations, and Mr Modi said he worked for the betterment of all.

“Stating facts and exposing the flawed strategy of the opposition is our job,” BJP president J.P. Nadda told Reuters when asked about Mr Modi’s weekend comments.

But he said the BJP remained committed to its slogan of betterment, underlining reforms pushed by Mr Modi’s government to help Muslim women and the poor in the community.

Another senior BJP leader and member of the party’s central election panel said Mr Modi’s Sunday comments should not be seen as “polarising,” as he had only reminded voters about the “Muslim-first strategy” of Congress and its allies.

He spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

In January, Mr Modi inaugurated a grand temple to the Hindu god-king Lord Ram on a once-disputed site believed to be his birthplace, fulfilling a longstanding promise projected by the BJP as a symbol of Hindu rejuvenation.

In campaign speeches, Mr Modi refers to the temple but he has focused more on his development and welfare record and national pride to counter the opposition focus on joblessness, price rise, and rural distress in the world’s fastest-growing major economy.

“When the campaign started, the focus was entirely on development, welfare, reaching out to marginalised people and Hindutva came last,” said Mr Ahmed, referring to the Hindu nationalism espoused by the BJP. “After the first phase, they realised they need to go back their voters … back to the basics.”

(Reuters/NAN)

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