Indian opposition accuses Modi of targeting Muslims in ‘hate speech’ as elections get underway

Indian prime minister says oppositon Congress party will take wealth from Hindus and give it to ‘those with more children’

Arpan Rai
Monday 22 April 2024 13:10 BST
Modi opens controversial Hindu temple on razed mosque ahead of India's elections

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s comment accusing the opposition party Congress of “snatching” away and redistributing wealth to the country’s Muslims has drawn widespread condemnation.

Addressing an election campaign rally in western Rajasthan state’s Banswara area on Sunday, Mr Modi said that if the Congress was voted to power, it would redistribute wealth from “Hindu wives and daughters” to “those with more children” – a dog whistle that Hindu nationalists commonly employ against the country’s Muslims.

“Earlier, when they were in power they had said Muslims have the first right to the wealth of the nation,” Mr Modi said, referring to the Congress. “This means they will distribute this wealth to those who have more children, to infiltrators. Should your hardearned money be given to infiltrators? Do you approve of this?"

The PM went on to falsely claim that the Congress party’s manifesto declared that they would “take stock of the gold mothers and daughters have and will distribute that wealth”.

“Manmohan Singh’s government had said Muslims have the first right to wealth. Brothers and sisters, this Urban Naxal thinking will not spare even mangalsutras of my mothers and sisters,” he added, meaning the necklace that Hindu women wear to signify they are married.

“Urban Naxal” is an accusatory rightwing label for Indians of leftist persuasion who are opposed to religious bigotry and economic inequality.

Mr Modi’s accusation stems from a 2006 statement by his predecessor, Manmohan Singh of the Congress party, that his administration would priortise the uplift of religious minorities, tribal and marginalised Hindu communities, poor, and women and children in its fiscal planning.

“I believe our collective priorities are clear: agriculture, irrigation and water resources, health, education, critical investment in rural infrastructure, and the essential public investment needs of general infrastructure, along with programmes for the upliftment of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, minorities, and women and children,” the former prime minister had said.

Mr Singh had emphasised the need to “devise innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the Muslim minority, are empowered to share equitably in the fruits of development”.

“They must have the first claim on resources. The Centre has a myriad of other responsibilities whose demands will have to be fitted within the overall resource availability.”

Mr Singh’s statement had sparked a controversy after Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), then in the opposition, made an issue of it.

He then issued a clarification calling the backlash a “deliberate and mischievous misinterpretation”.

In the wake of Mr Modi’s accusation, the Congress denied that its manifesto made any such claim.

“We challenge the prime minister to show us if the word Hindu or Muslim is written anywhere in our manifesto. There is a type of flippancy in your mentality, in your political values,” party spokesperson Pawan Khera said.

“We have talked about justice for the youth, women, farmers, tribals, middle class and workers. Do you object to this as well?”

Mallikarjun Kharge, the party’s president, said: “No Indian prime minister has lost the dignity of his post as much as Modi has in the history of India.”

On Monday, several opposition leaders demanded that the Election Commission of India ban Mr Modi from campaigning for violating the Model Code of Conduct, a framework imposed during elections to probhit the use of sectarian rhetoric and other unfair election practices.

Mr Modi’s speech was aimed at “not only appealing to ‘communal feelings’ but also instigating and aggravating hatred in Hindus against Muslims”, said a letter drafted by the Communist Party of India Marxist on Monday.

“Modi distorted the statement and peddled a lie with a clear objective of creating fear in the Hindus that the opposition Congress party would give the wealth of the country to Muslims.”

The PM “equated Muslims as a population which produces more children and is infiltrators”, the letter added.

Mr Modi’s speech triggered backlash on social media as well.

“Straight-up fascism from Modi. Modi had a history of encouraging mass violence against Muslims. So we should all take his words seriously,” said Dr Audrey Truschke, Rutgers University professor and historian of South Asia.

India is set to vote in the second phase of the national elections later this week. The elections, spread over seven polling days, started on 19 April and conclude with the counting of votes on June 4.

The elections will determine if Mr Modi stays on as PM for a rare third term. The PM is tipped to make a comeback, riding a wave of Hindu support in a country where Hindus are the vast majority of the population.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in