PM Narendra Modi’s offensive remarks against Muslims spark outrage during Lok Sabha election campaign

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By Our Correspondent

NEW DELHI—Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s offensive remarks against Indian Muslims, calling them infiltrators and claiming that they produce a large number of children, during an election speech in Rajasthan’s Banswara town on April 21 have sparked a widespread outrage across the country in the midst of the 2024 Lok Sabha election campaign. Almost all the political parties and civil society groups have described Modi’s utterances as “hate speech”.

Taking a dig at the Congress’s promise to address the inequality of wealth and income in its manifesto for Lok Sabha election, Modi in his speech that the Congress, if elected to power at the Centre, would distribute people’s property, land and gold among Muslims. “The Congress has [already] declared that Muslims have the first right to the country’s resources,” Modi said at the election rally in support of the BJP’s candidate in Banswara, which will go to polls on April 26.

Modi said the Congress had announced that it would conduct a survey to find out the property of individuals, gold owned by women, silver mostly owned by tribal families and land and cash belonging to government employees and others and redistribute it. “They will calculate the amount of gold that women have, get information about it and then distribute that property. Can you tolerate the government snatching your hard-earned money and property?” he asked.

While the Congress manifesto has promised to make “suitable changes in policies” to address the growing inequality of wealth and income, party leader Rahul Gandhi said in Hyderabad earlier this month that Congress, if voted to power, would carry out a financial and institutional survey, after the caste census, to ascertain the distribution of wealth among the people in the country.

Modi said the then Congress Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had stated in 2006 that Muslims had the first claim on the country’s resources. “That means the property will be distributed among those who have a large number of children… and among the infiltrators. Is it acceptable to you?” he asked.

The Prime Minister said the “urban Naxal” ideology of Congress would even deprive the women of their auspicious ‘Mangal Sutra’. “Gold jewellery of my mothers and sisters is not just for a show. It is a matter of their self-respect. Congress has stooped to such a level. How can you tolerate your hard-earned money going in the hands of intruders?” Modi said.

Taking a swipe at the Congress-Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) alliance in Delhi, Modi said the ‘Shahi Parivaar’ (royal family) of Congress would not cast vote for its own party in the national capital for the first time. As the Congress has not fielded its candidate from New Delhi Lok Sabha seat, Modi asked what right the party had for seeking the people’s votes elsewhere.

The leaders of Bharatiya Janata Party and its ideological fountainhead, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, have for a long time defamed the country’s over 20 crore Muslims as being outsiders. Muslim asylum seekers and refugees from Bangladesh and Myanmar are in particular targeted as infiltrators. The BJP and its partners have also long pushed a conspiracy theory which suggests that Muslims produce more children intending to eventually outnumber Hindus in the country.

However, the government data shows that the Muslim fertility rate is dropping at the fastest rate among all communities and has almost halved in the past three decades. During the anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002, Modi as the Chief Minister himself had promoted this stereotype and mocked the relief camps, where the Muslim victims of violence took shelter, as the baby-producing factories.

An outraged Congress dared Modi the next day to show even one paragraph in its manifesto where it talked about redistributing wealth to the Muslim community. Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, in a post on X, said the Prime Minister had delivered the “hate speech” after realising that the INDIA bloc had won the first phase of Lok Sabha elections on April 19.

Kharge alleged that lying for power and making baseless allegations about opponents were the values of the RSS-BJP combine that Modi has imbibed. “In the history of India, no Prime Minister has lowered the dignity of his post as much as Modi Ji has,” the Congress chief added.

“To win one election, you are spreading lies in the name of Hindu-Muslim. I challenge the Prime Minister to show us if there is any word like Muslim or Hindu in our manifesto. Either you accept this challenge or stop lying,” Congress leader Pawan Khera said in a message on X.

Responding to the Prime Minister’s speech, former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, in a post on X, claimed that “the Prime Minister’s lies have gone very low after the disappointment of the first phase of polling and that is why he is diverting attention from people’s issue. The trends of Congress’s revolutionary manifesto have started coming,” Gandhi added.

Hitting out at Modi over his remarks, Rajya Sabha MP Kapil Sibal said the political discourse has never sunk to such a low in India’s history and urged the Election Commission to take action in the matter. “After the PM’s speech, crores of people will be disappointed. Probably no other Prime Minister has given such a statement since 1950. The speech points out that our minorities who have been living in India for years are infiltrators. What kind of politics is this,” Sibal said at a press conference in New Delhi.

Slamming Modi for his outrageous remarks, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen president and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi pointed out that since 2002 till this day, the only Modi guarantee has been to abuse Muslims and get votes. “If one is talking about the country’s wealth, one should know that under Modi’s rule the first right to India’s wealth has been of his wealthy friends. 1% of Indians own 40% of the country’s wealth. Common Hindus are made to fear Muslims while their wealth is being used to enrich others,” Owaisi said.

Eminent social activist and Secretary-General of All India Christian Council, John Dayal, said even if all three of its members were sight and hearing challenged, the Election Commission of India could surely identify this as an Islamophobic rant by Prime Minister Modi. “They know of course that he is not referring to the overwhelming Hindu states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, or Madhya Pradesh for that matter.  UP has a family size of 5.7, and Bihar of 5.4 against the national average of 4.8.  But will the ECI have the guts to banish him campaigning in the rest of this phase of the elections?” Dayal asked.

Dayal said a recent Pew Survey had found that the slowdown in population growth has been more pronounced among India’s minority groups who outpaced Hindus in earlier decades. “What is striking is a fertility decline of nearly two children per woman under 25 years in a single generation among Muslims,” Dayal said, while citing Stephanie Kramer, a senior Pew researcher specialising in religion.

Fact-checkers and researchers have also exposed the falsehood being promoted by Modi about his predecessor and the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose speech has been misrepresented by Modi. In December 2006, Singh had said in his remarks at a meeting of the National Development Council on the government’s fiscal priorities: “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 SC/STs, Other Backward Classes, minorities, and women and children.”

“The component plans for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes will need to be revitalised. We will have 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.”

It was clear from the statement above that Singh’s reference to “first claim on resources” referred to all the priority areas listed by him, including programmes for the upliftment of SCs, STs, OBCs, women and children and minorities, and not just the Muslim community. However, the remarks have often been quoted by BJP leaders across the years. Last year, in poll-bound Chhattisgarh, Modi had repeated the claim.

The Congress lodged a complaint with the Election Commission of India on April 22 about Modi’s objectionable speech. A Congress delegation comprising Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Gurdeep Sappal and Supriya Shrinate met with the Election Commission and put forward 16 complaints against the BJP and other actors for violations of The Representation of the People Act, 1951, various judgments of the Supreme Court, and the ECI’s Model Code of Conduct.

“We hope that immediate action will be taken on these very legitimate complaints,” Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said in a post on X. One of the 16 complaints is against Modi for allegedly using religion to ask voters to refrain from voting for the INC while also making false and defamatory statements against the INC and its leaders.

The Congress has also filed a complaint against Doordarshan News’ new saffron logo, a colour which is universally associated with the BJP in Indian politics, and sought an inquiry in light of its decision being made during the election period.

However, the Election Commission has declined to comment on remarks made by the Prime Minister in his poll speech in Rajasthan. “We decline comment,” an Election Commission spokesperson said on queries related to the Prime Minister’s speech in Banswara.

As expected, the BJP has defended Modi’s speech and asserted that he has called a spade a spade and has echoed people’s sentiments. BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia told reporters in New Delhi that the Opposition is in pain as Modi has showed them “the mirror about its past”. “Modi’s remarks have resonated with people, as for the Opposition INDIA bloc those who have illegally entered the country are more important than citizens if they happen to be Muslims,” Bhatia said.

An online petition addressed to the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners and widely circulated on social media platforms has demanded urgent action against Modi, who has been invited to different states as a star campaigner of BJP, for his acts of violation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC). The petition pointed out that the MCC clearly says that no party or candidate would indulge in any activity which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic.

Further, according to Section 123(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951: “Appeals by a candidate, or any other person with the consent of a candidate, to vote or refrain from voting on the ground of his religion, race, caste, community or language is a corrupt electoral practice. Section 123(3A) denounces any attempt by a candidate to promote feelings of enmity or hatred among citizens on these grounds during elections. Anyone found guilty of corrupt electoral practice can be debarred from contesting elections for a maximum period of up to six years.”

The petition pointed out that Modi had blatantly violated this code and the RPA, 1951, by making a speech in one of his election meetings at Banswara in the state of Rajasthan aiming at not only appealing to ‘communal feelings’ but also instigating and aggravating hatred in the Hindus against Muslims. Referring to Singh’s speech of 2006, the petition said it did not say anywhere that Muslims would have the first right over the wealth of the nation. “But 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 petition said.

“Modi equated Muslims as a population which produces more children and is infiltrators. This speech of Modi has gone viral and reached all parts of the country. One can imagine the impact of this speech on the minds of the people, Hindus and Muslims both. Modi has violated the MCC in this election campaign even before when he said that every page of the manifesto of the Congress Party bears the imprint of the Muslim League,” the petition stated.

The petition said the Election Commission would agree that the latest speech of Modi is aimed at creating tension and enmity between Hindus and Muslims and instigating Hindus to see Muslims as infiltrators and their enemies. “It is a clear violation of the MCC. We request you therefore to censure Modi because his speech has the potential of tearing apart the social fabric of India and impose a ban on his campaign, as has been done earlier for violations of this nature,” said the petition.

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