Modi calls rivals pro-Muslim

April 24, 2024 6:27 am

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi [Source: Reuters]

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist party have begun attacking opposition rivals, saying they favour minority Muslims, in what analysts see as a bid to invigorate their hardline base after general elections began last week.

India began voting on Friday in a seven-phase election at which Modi seeks a rare third consecutive term, with campaigning that had so far largely focused on his record of growth and welfare as well as his personal popularity.

But in a speech on Sunday, Modi referred to Muslims as “infiltrators” who have “more children”, linking the comment to what he called an election plan of the main opposition Congress party to redistribute the wealth of Hindus among Muslims.

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The Congress denied making any such promise and petitioned the Election Commission to act against Modi, who surveys suggest will win a comfortable majority, though analysts say his party wants to avert possible voter fatigue and overconfidence.

The controversial remarks were an unusual “deviation” from Modi’s usual practice as he rarely targets Muslims directly, said Hilal Ahmed, a political analyst at Delhi’s Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

They followed low voter turnout in areas where the BJP had done well in 2019, he added.

The comment on redistribution of wealth to Muslims was supported and amplified on Monday by BJP members, including Modi’s powerful cabinet colleague, Home Minister Amit Shah, who mentioned it in a campaign speech.

Modi aired the claim again on Tuesday, a day after speaking about the gains Muslims have made during his 10-year rule.

In the southern state of Karnataka, half of which votes on Friday in the second phase of elections, BJP members have staged protests against last week’s murder of a Hindu woman by a Muslim man.

They say the incident is an instance of “love jihad”, a term Hindu groups use to accuse Muslim men of waging a campaign that lures Hindu women to convert to Islam with promises of marriage.