Modi speech on India's Muslim 'infiltrators' sparks outrage

Critics call for election officials to take action against Prime Minister

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's latest comments on the election campaign trail have caused controversy. Reuters
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks about India’s Muslim community have sparked an outcry and demands for action against the Hindu nationalist leader after he called them “infiltrators” and “baby producers”.

The officially secular country of 1.4 billion people is overseeing the world’s largest polls in a staggered process to elect a new national leader, with results scheduled to be announced on June 4.

India’s election laws bar politicians and political parties from seeking votes on the basis of religion or caste, and also disrespecting faith in the multi-religious society, where Hindus account for one billion of its population and Muslims 200 million.

Mr Modi was holding an election rally in Jalore district in Rajasthan on Sunday when he warned Hindus to not vote for the main opposition Indian National Congress party, claiming it would snatch their "family gold" and hand it to the Muslims along with the entire wealth of the nation.

“Earlier, when the [Congress] government was in power, they had said that Muslims have the first right to the country's assets. This means to whom will this property be distributed?” Mr Modi said, referring to the previous 10-year-rule of Congress in India.

“The Congress manifesto says that they will survey everyone’s property. They will investigate how much gold our sisters have and it will be distributed among those who have more children and to the infiltrators. Should your hard-earned money go to the infiltrators? Do you approve of this?" he said to the crowd.

“Sisters and mothers, they will not even spare your mangalsutra,” he said, referring to jewellery worn specifically by some married Hindu women.

Mr Modi was referring to a 2006 speech by his predecessor Manmohan Singh from the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance that had laid plans to ensure an equitable share of the country’s development and the nation’s resources for minorities, particularly Muslims.

Hindu right-wing groups have long floated conspiracy theories claiming Muslims were intentionally “increasing their population” to turn India into a “Muslim nation", although the government and demographers have rejected such assertions. Experts say India has a stable population growth across all the faiths and communities.

The Hindu nationalist leader also attacked the Congress party over its election manifesto that pledges giving an equitable share to marginalised groups, including Muslims, who remain at the fringes of economic and social growth.

Congress said Mr Modi's remarks amounted to hate speech and accused him of misleading voters over its manifesto, which focuses on narrowing the country's worsening economic disparity.

“What Mr Modi said is not only a hate speech but also a well-thought-out ploy to divert attention,” Mallikarjun Kharge, the Congress president said on X. "In the history of India, no prime minister has lowered the dignity of his post as much as Mr Modi."

India has the world’s third-highest number of billionaires but its economic divide has increased under Mr Modi’s rule, with 1 per cent of the population owning 40 per cent of the country's wealth, the highest in six decades, according to research group the World Inequality Lab.

Many critics accuse Mr Modi of cronyism.

Critics have called for the Election Commission of India to take legal action against the Prime Minister amid allegations that the constitutional body has become partisan.

Election laws prohibit using religion in campaigning and any breach could result in disqualification of candidates or sitting politicians from the electoral process, as well as jail terms.

“What is stopping you from taking action against such hate speeches which are anti-national in nature?” Rohan Bhargava asked the Electoral Commission on X.

Several opposition leaders have accused Mr Modi of inciting hatred of Muslims and stoking sectarian divides for political gain.

Since coming to power in 2014, he has often been accused of espousing the cause of the Hindutva–Hindu hegemony agenda propagated by his right-wing government, targeting Muslims and Christians.

Mr Modi rose through the political ranks in the aftermath of India’s worst sectarian riots, which took place in Gujarat in 2002. His government has also been accused of modifying Hindu sentiment, especially during election campaigning, invoking majoritarian identity and capitalising on religious pride.

Asaduddin Owaisi, a parliamentarian from All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen party, said: “Modi today called Muslims infiltrators and said that they have more children. From 2002 till now, Modi has had only one guarantee: abuse the Muslims of India and get votes … common Hindus are made to fear Muslims while their wealth is being used to enrich others.”

Mr Modi headed Gujarat in February 2002 in the aftermath of the killing of Hindu pilgrims by Muslims on a train in Godhra. Hindu mobs rampaged under a paralysed administration for days.

More than 1,000 people died, the majority of them Muslims, with tens of thousands displaced.

The Prime Minister caused controversy in 2019 when he said “rioters can be identified from their clothes”, a reference to nationwide street protests, held largely by Muslims wearing traditional garb, against divisive citizenship laws that they saw as discriminatory.

Updated: April 22, 2024, 11:28 AM