PM Modi calls Muslims ‘infiltrators’ trying to steal India’s wealth

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday called Muslims “infiltrators” who would steal India’s wealth if the opposition came to power. It was an unusually direct and divisive statement from a leader who usually leaves others to do the dirtiest job of polarizing Hindus against Muslims.

Addressing voters in the state of Rajasthan, Modi referred to remarks previously made by his predecessor Manmohan Singh of the opposition Indian National Congress Party. Mr. Modi claimed that Mr. Singh “said that Muslims have a first right to the wealth of the country.” This means that they distribute this wealth to people who have more children and to interlopers. ”

Mr Modi made an emotional appeal to women, “my mothers and sisters”, saying the Congress opposition would take away their money and give it to Muslims.

Suggestions that Muslims have too many babies, that they are taking in Hindu wives and daughters, and that their Indian nationality is in question are often made by representatives of Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It is said.

Mr. Modi himself used such language while campaigning for a third term in office, raising concerns that it could inspire right-wing vigilante groups targeting Muslims. This has raised questions about what prompted the change in Mr. Modi’s communication style. Mr. Modi typically avoids even using the word “Muslim”, shyly finding ways to indirectly refer to India’s largest minority of 200 million people.

Nationalist Congress party leader Mallikarjun Kharge called Modi’s remarks “hate speech”. Asaduddin Owaisi, who heads the only national political party for Muslims, said: “Ordinary Hindus are made to fear Muslims, while their wealth enriches others. “It’s being used for things like that,” he lamented.

BJP spokesperson Tom Badakkan said Mr Modi’s speech had been misinterpreted. “This is not about our fellow Muslims,” ​​he said. Badakkan said Modi was only talking about “infiltrators”.

The Prime Minister’s fiery speech, delivered in 100 degree heat in the arid Rajasthan town of Banswara, was in sharp contrast to the image he projects in the international context.

During a visit to the White House in June, Modi said India had “no problem of discrimination”. Three months later, when presiding over the Group of 20 summit in New Delhi, he chose the theme “The world is one family” (in Sanskrit, the main liturgical language of orthodox Hinduism).

He used his appearances on soft-power programs like the World Yoga Day broadcast in Times Square to present Hindu-dominated India as a benevolent “teacher of the world.”

The campaign to divide Hindus and Muslims, especially in areas like Banswara where Hindus outnumber Muslims by three to one, is likely to appeal to far-right Hindus among Mr. Modi’s broader electorate. It could help energize the base.

With his remarks, Mr. Modi may have been trying to bridge a rift among Hindus in Rajasthan over whether to support the Bharatiya Janata Party, and a prominent group has criticized the party leader’s comments. We are holding a protest.

But the Prime Minister’s speech was clearly also aimed at a wider audience. He shared the clip on his official social media channels.

The six-week voting period ends on June 1 and the BJP remains the favorite to win a parliamentary majority when votes are counted three days later. Kharge, leader of the Congress party, said Mr Modi’s speech was probably a sign of desperation, adding that opposition candidates must be doing well in the early stages of voting.

Neerja Chaudhry, columnist and author of How Prime Ministers Make Decisions, echoed Kharji, saying that in her view, “voters are expressing their dissatisfaction more openly this time.” The Bharatiya Janata Party “receives feedback very quickly” and can make quick course corrections, she added.

Rahul Gandhi, the public face of the Congress party, said Modi’s comments were meant to distract from issues that bother ordinary voters, such as unemployment and inflation.

The prime minister’s slight mention of religion in his speech sparked complaints that he violated India’s election rules.

Candidates are prohibited from soliciting votes in the name of religion or caste. But Bharatiya Janata Party leaders regularly invoke Hindu deities during election rallies. The country’s election commission, which enforces the rules, has taken little action against the party, even though it has filed lawsuits against members of other parties in similar cases.

Mr. Modi’s former ally Uddhav Thackeray, who is now at odds with the Bharatiya Janata Party, has now rejected the Election Commission’s order to remove the word “Hindu” from his party’s campaign songs. declared that it would be ignored.

The basis for Mr. Modi’s attack was a 22-second excerpt from a 2006 statement by Mr. Singh, a Sikh economist who served as prime minister before Mr. Modi. Singh listed a number of traditionally disadvantaged groups. In India, he said, all citizens, including lower caste Hindus, tribal people, and “particularly the Muslim community” should share the country’s wealth equitably.

Since Mr. Modi took office in 2014, Muslims have not made up a proportionate share. Indian economy is strong and social development. There are no Muslims among the 430 candidates fielded by the Bharatiya Janata Party in this election.

Mr. Singh’s 2006 speech seems old now, but it came just four years after riots erupted in Gujarat on Mr. Modi’s watch. Hindus and Muslims hacked and burned each other, leaving at least 1,000 people dead, most of them Muslims.

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