Narendra Modi speaks to supporters

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaksto supporters at a campaign rally in Nalbari district, Assam on April 17, 2024.

(Photo: Anuwar Hazarika/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

​Modi Slammed for 'Direct Attack on Muslims of India' in Campaign 'Hate Speech'

"Modi's rhetoric against Muslims is extremely divisive and dangerous," warned one critic. "It would only fuel more hate and violence against the already battered community."

Critics on Monday condemned far-right Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for what one group called a "hateful and dangerous" campaign speech in which he claimed that Muslim "infiltrators" would steal Indians' wealth if the opposition wins parliamentary elections that began last week.

Speaking to supporters at a rally in the western state of Rajasthan on Sunday, Modi said that the manifesto of the opposition Indian National Congress (INC) party details how to calculate "the amount of gold that mothers and sisters have" so that it can be redistributed to Muslims.

"When they were in power, they said Muslims have first right over resources," the prime minister claimed out of context. "They will gather all your wealth and redistribute among those who have more children. They will distribute it among infiltrators. Do you think your hard-earned money should be given to infiltrators? Would you accept this?"

Members of Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—which does enjoy the support of a significant number of Indian Muslims—have often portrayed Muslims as outsiders. BJP officials have also pushed a baseless conspiracy narrative roughly analogous to U.S. white supremacists' "great replacement" theory, in this case positing that Muslim migrants and rapidly reproducing Indian Muslims will eventually outnumber Hindus—who make up around 80% of the country's 1.4 billion people.

Modi's remarks came a day after India's seven-step election of 543 members of the Lok Sabha, or lower legislative house, began. Modi is running for a third consecutive term. He's being challenged by INC President Mallikarjun Kharge, leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, the upper legislative house. Results will be announced on June 4.

Kharge responded to Modi's remarks by blasting the "panic-filled" address as "not only a hate speech but also a well-thought-out ploy to divert attention" by the prime minister, the BJP, and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)—a fascist-inspired political and paramilitary movement whose brand of Hindu supremacy heavily influenced the rise of the BJP.

"Lying for power, making baseless references to things, and making false accusations on opponents is the specialty of the training of RSS and BJP," Kharge said, adding that Indians "are no longer going to fall prey to this lie."

Indian journalist and Washington Post opinion columnist Rana Ayyub said on social media that "this is not a dogwhistle, this is a targeted, direct, brazen hate speech against a community."

Thousands of Indians petitioned the country's Election Commission seeking punitive action against Modi.

"The prime minister, while campaigning... made a speech on April 21 in Rajasthan that has disturbed the sentiments of millions of Constitution-respecting citizens of India," one petition states. "The speech is dangerous and a direct attack on the Muslims of India."

Muslim groups around the world also slammed Modi's speech, which the U.S.-based Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) called "hateful and dangerous."

"It is unconscionable, but not surprising, that far-right Hindutva leader Narendra Modi would target Indian Muslims with a hateful and dangerous diatribe despite his role as the leader of a nation with such a diverse religious heritage," said CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad.

"We again call on the Biden administration to declare India a 'country of particular croncern' over its discriminatory and violent policies targeting Muslims and other religious minorities," Awad added. "Global Islamophobia is alive and well in India and must be confronted before it escalates to something even worse."

South Asia historian Audrey Truschke, a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, accused Modi of "straight-up fascism."

"Modi had a history of encouraging mass violence against Muslims," Truschke added. "So we should all take his words seriously."

Modi was chief minister of the western state of Gujarat in February 2002 when a train full of Hindu pilgrims was set ablaze, killing 58 people. The cause of the disaster remains disputed, but Modi was quick to blame Muslims for the fire. In a three-day paroxysm of intercommunal bloodletting, Hindu mobs murdered at least hundreds—and perhaps thousands—of Muslim men, women, and children. Many women and girls were raped. More than 250 Hindus were also killed during what came to be called the Gujarat riots, during which an estimated 150,000 people were also forcibly displaced.

A team sent by the British government concluded that Modi was "directly responsible for a climate of impunity" that enabled the pogrom. However, a special investigation commissioned by the Indian Supreme Court cleared him of complicity in 2012. Modi's alleged role in the massacre led to a U.S. visa ban during the George W. Bush administration that was lifted during the tenure of former President Barack Obama after Modi became prime minister.

Deadly violence against religious minorities and others has increased during BJP rule. And while the U.S. State Department has perennially criticized the Indian government's human rights record, Modi was courted by both the Trump and Biden administrations. Last year, the White House literally rolled out the red carpet for Modi, who was lavishly feted by President Joe Biden and invited to speak before a rare joint session of Congress. Several progressive lawmakers boycotted the address.

Earlier this year, Progressive International's (PI) executive body used Modi's consecration of a highly controversial Hindu temple on the former site of a 16th-century Muslim mosque destroyed by a Hindu nationalist mob as an opportunity to issue a warning about the accelerating erosion of democracy in India.

"The Modi government has made a decisive move to overthrow India's secular constitution in the name of a new Hindu supremacist nation," PI's statement asserted. "As prime minister, Modi has pushed this Hindu nationalism as India's dominant political force: banning the hijab in schools, introducing 'anti-conversion' laws, abusing municipal forces to demolish Muslim households and shops in cities, and pushing for a 'uniform civil code' in law."

Anti-Muslim speech has also increased dramatically in India, according to a report published earlier this year by the U.S.-based India Hate Lab. The publication detailed 668 incidents in 2023—75% of which occurred in BJP-ruled states.

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