Indian PM Modi raises anti-Muslim rhetoric as election heats up

Millions of Indian voters across 93 constituencies were casting ballots on Tuesday as Prime Minister Narendra Modi mounted an increasingly shrill election campaign, ramping up polarizing rhetoric in incendiary speeches that have targeted the Muslim minority.

In recent campaign rallies, Modi has called Muslims “infiltrators” and said they “have too many children,” referring to a Hindu nationalist trope that Muslims produce more children with the aim of outnumbering Hindus in India. He has also accused the rival Indian National Congress party of scheming to “loot” wealth from the country’s Hindus and redistribute it among Muslims, who comprise 14 per cent of India’s more than 1.4 billion people.

Tuesday’s polling in the third round of multi-phase national elections has crucial seats up for grabs in states including Karnataka, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. Most polls predict a win for Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party, which is up against a broad opposition alliance led by the Congress and powerful regional parties. The staggered election will run until June 1 and votes will be counted on June 4.

Modi, who voted in western Ahmedabad city on Tuesday, had kicked off his campaign with a focus on economic progress, promising he would make India a developed nation by 2047. But in recent weeks, he and the ruling BJP have doubled down heavily on their Hindu nationalism platform, with Modi employing some of his most divisive rhetoric in his decade in power.

Analysts say the change in tone comes as the BJP aims to clinch a supermajority or two-thirds of the 543 seats up for grabs in India’s lower Parliament by consolidating votes among the majority Hindu population, who make up 80%. They say Modi’s party is also ratcheting up polarizing speeches to distract voters from larger issues, like unemployment and economic distress, that the opposition has focused on.While India’s economy is among the world’s fastest growing, many people face growing economic stress. The opposition alliance hopes to tap into this discontent, seeking to galvanize voters on issues like high unemployment, inflation, corruption and low agricultural prices, which have driven two years of farmers’ protests.

“The mask has dropped, and I think it is political compulsions that have made them do this,” said Ali Khan Mahmudabad, a political science professor at New Delhi’s Ashoka University.

Changes in the BJP’s campaign may also be a sign of anxiety around low voter turnout it had not anticipated, Mahmudabad said. Voter turnout in the first two phases have been slightly lower than the same rounds in the last election in 2019, according to official data.

“In recent elections, the BJP’s wins have been associated with getting the voters out (to vote),” Mahmudabad said. “There may be some fatigue, anti-incumbency or even disenchantment,” which has led the BJP to escalate their rhetoric.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *