India’s election watchdog orders removal of ruling party’s video demonising Muslims

It’s not clear why election commission directed X to remove video and not Modi’s ruling party

Maroosha Muzaffar
Wednesday 08 May 2024 12:09 BST
Narendra Modi prays underwater at 'lost' temple in Gujarat

The Election Commission of India has ordered the removal of an animated video targeting the country’s Muslim minority that was posted on social media by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Karnataka state chapter.

The video, laced with anti-Muslim hatred, showed Rahul Gandhi, the face of the main opposition Congress party, favouring Muslims over the mostly Hindu Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes – all underprivileged communities covered under the country’s social welfare net.

After the Congress and civil society groups in Karnataka raised concern about the video, the election body directed X to remove it. The video was “violative of the extant legal framework”, the commission said.

It wasn’t clear why the election watchdog didn’t order the ruling party to take down the video despite having the legal authority.

The commission was once regarded as an aggressively fair umpire of India’s elections but is now accused of favouring Modi’s ruling party, which has rewritten rules over the years to erode its independence.

Following a complaint by the Congress, the Karnataka police filed a case against the ruling party’s chief JP Nadda, head of its information technology cell Amit Malviya and state chief BY Vijayendra for posting the video.

The Karnataka Congress’s communications chief Ramesh Babu said in his complaint that “the act of the accused person is clearly with an intention to want only provocate rioting and promote enmity between different religions and is prejudicial to maintenance of harmony apart from intimidating members of SC and ST community not to vote for particular candidate and causing enmity against members of SC and ST community”.

The video, also posted on Instagram, shows a nest with eggs marked “SC”, “ST”, “OBC”. A caricature of Mr Gandhi is seen adding a bulkier egg to the nest labelled “Muslims”. The eggs hatch and the “Muslim” bird appears, wearing a skullcap and beard. Mr Gandhi feeds “funds” to the “Muslim” bird and neglects the rest. The “Muslim” bird grows much bigger and pushes the others out of the nest.

India’s election code bars contesting parties and candidates from whipping up sectarian sentiments on the campaign trail, while the Representation of the People Act considers the use of religion to solicit votes as a “corrupt practice”.

The Election Commission’s letter to X came three days after the video was posted and Karnataka done voting in the national election.

Although the commission had informed X about the video on 5 May, it was still up on 7 May, which is when it explained to the social media platform that the post violated the law of the land.

“The post has not been taken down yet. Therefore, X is directed to take down the post immediately. This is issued with the approval of the competent authority,” it said.

This is the second anti-Muslim video posted by prime minister Narendra Modi’s party to be taken down in recent days. The other was removed from Instagram early this month. It regurgitated Mr Modi’s sectarian campaign rhetoric by declaring that “if the Congress party comes to power, it will snatch all the money and wealth of non-Muslims and distribute it to Muslims. Their favourite community!”

It also portrayed Muslims as barbaric “infiltrators” and “outsiders” who looted India. “Congress party’s manifesto is nothing but Muslim League’s ideology in disguise.”

As India votes in the mammoth national election, spread over six weeks, Mr Modi and his ruling party have been accused of deepening the country’s sectarian divisions by targeting Muslims to curry favour with the majority Hindu voters.

Mr Modi’s party is part of the Hindu nationalist ecosystem called Sangh Parivar, which seeks to make India a Hindu-first nation and routinely attacks Muslims with sectarian dog whistles.

Mr Modi, in power for a decade, is seeking to win a third straight term.

Ahead of the election, chief election commissioner Rajeev Kumar issued a warning against hate speech and “speeches along caste or religious lines”.

The commission issued a notice to the ruling party after Mr Modi made a speech in which he falsely referred to the country’s Muslims as “infiltrators”. India is home to nearly 200 million Muslims.

Addressing a campaign rally in Banswara in the western Rajasthan state last month, Mr Modi said that if the Congress party took power it would take wealth from “Hindu wives and daughters” and give it to “those with more children”, a dog whistle that Hindu nationalists employ against the Muslims.

He also claimed that the Congress party’s manifesto declared it would “take stock of the gold mothers and daughters have, and will distribute that wealth”.

The manifesto made no such claim.

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