Modi’s anti-Muslim ‘Vote Jihad’ rhetoric faces severe criticism

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of amplifying divisive rhetoric during the country’s election campaign by calling Muslim votes “Vote Jihad” to encourage Hindus to vote for his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which is seeking a historic third term.
Modi’s anti-Muslim ‘Vote Jihad’:- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of amplifying divisive rhetoric during the country’s election campaign by calling Muslim votes “Vote Jihad” [VOA]
Modi’s anti-Muslim ‘Vote Jihad’:- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of amplifying divisive rhetoric during the country’s election campaign by calling Muslim votes “Vote Jihad” [VOA]

Modi’s anti-Muslim ‘Vote Jihad’:- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of amplifying divisive rhetoric during the country’s election campaign by calling Muslim votes “Vote Jihad” to encourage Hindus to vote for his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which is seeking a historic third term.

Modi told a BJP rally last Tuesday in the central Madhya Pradesh province that voters would have to carefully choose between "Vote Jihad" and "Ram Rajya." The term, meaning "Ram’s Governance," refers to an ideal society characterized by equality, prosperity and justice. In recent years, some have come to believe this ideal can only be achieved through the rise of the BJP.

"At this important turning point in history you have to decide whether you will allow Vote Jihad to continue or, vote in support of building a Ram Rajya,” Modi told the rally.

"Terrorists in Pakistan have launched jihad against India. And here, the Congress party has announced a Vote Jihad against the BJP, and is asking its followers of a particular religion [Muslims] to unitedly vote against Modi."

The Indian National Congress party is the main opposition party.

Delhi University professor of Hindi, Apoorvanand, who goes by one name, told VOA on Friday that, sensing a lack of enthusiasm among Hindu voters, Modi and other BJP leaders are "desperate to energize them by feeding them the tried and tested anti-Muslim rhetoric."

"The BJP has turned this election into a war between Hindus and Muslims," he said.

"His party is portraying it as the final opportunity for the Hindus to 'save' themselves from Muslims, by electing their ultimate savior to power — Modi."

As India holds phased six-week-long elections continuing until June 1, Modi and some BJP leaders have been accused of delivering "hate speeches" during the campaign.

Wealth to ‘infiltrators’

Modi told a rally in the northwestern state of Rajasthan during the third week of April that if the Indian National Congress party came to power, it would distribute people’s wealth "among those who are infiltrators and have more children," remarks widely believed to refer to Muslims.

Opposition parties and civil rights groups criticized Modi for the comments.

Amnesty India said that in his remarks Modi "demonizes" India’s Muslims and puts them at increased risk of human rights violations.

However, Modi did not stop targeting the opposition and Muslims. In the last week of April, in the western state of Gujarat, he said at another rally that the opposition Congress was helping Muslims in a plot to take over India.

"The opposition is asking Muslims to launch vote jihad. In the past, we heard about 'love jihad' and 'land jihad.' Be careful about this new jihad. You all know what jihads mean and against whom they are waged," Modi said.

Then came his remarks Tuesday in Madhya Pradesh, and two days later, Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah told a rally in the southern state of Telangana that a vote for Congress equaled a "vote for jihad."

"The 2024 general election is Narendra Modi versus [Congress leader] Rahul Gandhi, and this is a contest between [a] vote for development and [a] 'vote for jihad,'" Shah said.

Modi’s latest Vote Jihad remark came after Maria Alam, a leader of the opposition Samajwadi Party, last month urged a Muslim gathering in Uttar Pradesh to go for "jihad of votes," to oust BJP from power.

Alam told VOA that she had used the words "jihad of votes" but meant it in a different sense than Modi is implying.

"In Arabic, jihad means to struggle or exert strength and effort to accomplish a task. Using the words ‘vote jihad’ in my speech, I urged people to strive together to accomplish the victory of secular forces," Alam said in Urdu.

"I was utterly shocked to find how the media and the ruling party leaders distorted the meaning of my words," she said.

In the last week of April, citizens and rights activists urged the Election Commission of India to act against the hate speech of Modi and other BJP leaders.

On Friday, the Congress party-led opposition wrote to the commission that it was allowing Modi to continue "unchecked and brazen" violations by not acting against him for his hate speech.

This was a "complete abdication" of the commission's duty, and the violations are being committed "with impunity and utter disregard,” the letter said.

BJP leaders divided

Modi has not reacted to accusations he is using hate speech on the campaign trail.

BJP party leaders are divided on this issue.

Two days after Modi said in Rajasthan that Congress would take people’s wealth and distribute it among "infiltrators and those who have more children," his party spokesperson, Gaurav Bhatia, defended his remarks and said the prime minister had "called a spade a spade."

"Mr. Modi’s remarks have resonated with people," Bhatia said.

Some other BJP leaders seem to disagree with the anti-Muslim speeches of Modi and others.

New Delhi-based senior BJP leader Alok Vatsa told VOA that Modi’s speech, among others, has dropped to the "lowest level possible."

"The prime minister’s speeches, especially those targeting the Muslim community, are completely unwarranted," Vatsa told VOA.

"Even those who have supported him blindly over the years, do not approve of his latest communal outbursts. In their eyes, it is unbecoming of someone of a prime minister’s stature," he told VOA.

Anti-Muslim comments not unprecedented

Muslim leaders say Modi’s anti-Muslim comments are not unprecedented, as he has been long known for his "intense hatred" for Muslims.

Zafarul-Islam Khan, former chairman of the Delhi Minorities Commission, told VOA that after the 2002 Gujarat Riots, Modi refused to help displaced Muslims and dubbed their camps "children-producing factories."

"Under his watch, Gujarat witnessed mass marginalization, ghettoization and pauperization of Muslims.

"It was hoped that after becoming prime minister in 2014, Mr. Modi would behave like a statesman, but he and his ministers never let go any opportunity to vilify, harm and marginalize Muslims, to this day," he said.

Aakar Patel, chairman of the board of Amnesty International in India, said Modi’s anti-Muslim speeches are unbecoming of a prime minister.

"Mr. Modi is persistent with his hate speech which is likely to extend and intensify the systematic and systemic discrimination suffered by Indian Muslims," Patel told VOA.

Reacting to Modi’s reference to Muslim votes as "Vote Jihad," Somdeep Sen, a professor of international development studies at Roskilde University in Denmark, told VOA that this is "a usual narrative trope" employed widely by Hindu nationalists.

"Islamophobia is at the very core of the Hindutva political project [aimed at making India a Hindu state] wherein the terrorism discourse is frequently weaponized to delegitimize critics and opposition parties. So, it makes sense that the political leader of this project – namely, Narendra Modi – has chosen to brandish this discourse in his political speeches during the election campaign," Sen said.

"At the polls, this divisive strategy could help tip the scales in favor of BJP in the Hindu majority nation," he said. VOA/SP

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