Narendra Modi accused of stirring tensions as voting in India continues

    WORLD  23 April 2024 - 14:41

    India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, has been accused of hate speech during a campaign rally where he called Muslims “infiltrators” who had “many children” and claimed they would take people’s hard-earned money.

    The opposition accused Modi of “blatantly targeting” India’s 200 million Muslim minority with comments made while addressing voters at a speech in Rajasthan on April 21, The Guardian reports.

    India is now in the midst of a general election, in which Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) are seeking a third term in power. Voting will continue in phases until early June.

    In his speech, Modi claimed a previous government, led by the main opposition Congress party, had said “Muslims have the first right over the nation’s wealth”.

    The prime minister went on to add that if Congress won the current election, people’s wealth “will be distributed among those who have more children. It will be distributed to the infiltrators”.

    India’s prime minister Narendra Modi at a pilgrimage site in Uttarakhand in the Himalayas

    ‘I was told I’d be killed if I didn’t leave’: Himalayan state is a testing ground for Modi’s nationalism

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

    The comments provoked a heavy backlash among political opponents and civil society, who accused Modi of stirring up religious tensions and fuelling false conspiracies about Muslims.

    Mallikarjun Kharge, president of the Congress party, accused Modi of “hate speech” and violating the election rules that ban canvassing based on “communal feelings”.

    In response, Congress filed a complaint to the election commission, alleging that the prime minister’s “divisive, objectionable and malicious” comments were targeted at “a particular religious community” and amounted to “blatant and direct violations of electoral laws”.

    They were “far worse than any ever made by a sitting prime minister in the history of India”, the complaint added. The election commission declined to comment.

    Since the BJP came to power in 2014 with a Hindu nationalist agenda, it has been accused of policies and rhetoric that targeted minorities, particularly Muslims, who have allegedly been subjected to rising violence and persecution both by the state and by right-wing Hindu vigilante outfits. The BJP has only one Muslim candidate running in this election.

    Senior BJP figures such as Yogi Adityanath, a hardline Hindu monk who is the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, have been accused of making derogatory comments towards Muslims in speeches. However, as prime minister, Modi has tended to steer clear of explicit mentions of Muslims, and instead been accused of “dog whistle” politics and indirect references to single out Muslims.

    BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia told reporters that Modi was calling “a spade a spade” and his remarks resonated with what people thought.

    Almost a billion people are registered to vote in the elections, with the first phase of voting held last Friday. The election is widely expected to return Modi and the BJP to power when results are counted on 4 June.

    On April 22, voting had to be rerun at 11 polling stations in the north-eastern state of Manipur which has been hit by months of ethnic clashes. Reports of violence and damage to voting machines led to authorities declaring the vote as void.

    At least six instances of groups trying to take over polling stations were reported in the state capital Imphal, said an election official. “Armed mobs came and tried to take control of the polling station,” he said.

    The Congress party demanded a rerun at 47 Manipur polling stations, alleging that booths were captured and elections were rigged.

    Caliber.Az

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