‘Modi using hate speech’


Party under fire: BJP supporters waving their party flags, which uses a lotus as its election symbol, ahead of the second phase of national elections in Meerut. — AP

THE country’s main opposition party has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of using hate speech after he called Muslims “infiltrators” – some of his most incendiary rhetoric about the minority faith, days after India began its weekslong general election.

The remarks at a campaign rally on Sunday drew fierce criticism that Modi was peddling anti-Muslim tropes.

The Congress party filed a complaint on Monday with the Election Commission of India, alleging he broke rules that bar candidates from engaging in any activity that aggravates religious tensions.

Critics of the prime minister – an avowed Hindu nationalist – say India’s tradition of diversity and secularism has come under attack since his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won power a decade ago. They accuse the party of fostering religious intolerance and sometimes even violence.

The party denies the accusation and says its policies benefit all Indians.

At a rally in the state of Rajasthan, Modi said that when the Congress party was in government, “they said Muslims have the first right over the country’s resources.”

If it returns to power, the party “will gather all your wealth and distribute it among those who have more children”, he said as the crowd applauded.

“They will distribute it among infiltrators,” he continued, saying, “Do you think your hard-earned money should be given to infiltrators?”

Mallikarjun Kharge, the Congress party’s president, described the prime minister’s comments as “hate speech” and party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi called them “deeply, deeply objectionable”.

The party sought action from the election commission, whose code of conduct forbids candidates from appealing “to caste or communal feelings” to secure votes.

The first votes were cast on Friday in the six-week election, which Modi and his Hindu nationalist BJP are expected to win, according to most surveys.

The results come out on June 4.

Asaduddin Owaidi, a Muslim lawmaker and president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen party, said on Sunday: “Since 2002 till this day, the only Modi guarantee has been to abuse Muslims and get votes.”

While there have long been tensions between India’s majority Hindu community and Muslims, rights groups say that attacks against minorities have become more brazen under Modi.

Muslims have been lynched by Hindu mobs over allegations of eating beef or smuggling cows, an animal considered holy to Hindus. Muslim businesses have been boycotted, their homes and businesses have been bulldozed and places of worship set on fire. There have been open calls for their genocide. — AP

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