India election: Modi deploys anti-Muslim rhetoric ahead of latest round of voting

Opposition will ‘favour’ India’s some 200 million Muslims at the cost of Hindu wellbeing, prime minister claims

Men cycle past a mural featuring Bollywood actor Amir Khan and slogans encouraging people to vote in Jalandhar city in the north Indian state of Punjab. Photograph: SHAMMI MEHRA/AFP via Getty Images

Voting in the fourth of seven rounds of polling in India’s general elections gets under way on Monday, with prime minister Narendra Modi repeatedly cautioning the country’s majority Hindu voters against numerical and economic hegemony by the minority Muslim community.

The prime minister (73) has also burnished his own Hindu credentials and those of his Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), as he seeks a record third consecutive five-year term in office.

India began voting on April 19th and elections for more than half of the 543 seats in parliament have now been completed. The outcome of the elections will be known on June 4th.

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Political observers said that in recent campaign speeches Mr Modi had focused less on the economic, infrastructural and welfare programmes begun during his decade-long tenure as prime minister, and more on attacking the opposition alliance. He has claimed that if elected, the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) of more than two dozen parties will “favour” India’s 200-odd million Muslims, at the cost of Hindu wellbeing.


Opposition leaders have claimed that mainstream and social media outlets, taking their cue from Mr Modi’s comments, have demonised Indian Muslims who comprise about 15 per cent of the population of 1.4 billion, while Hindus account for 80 per cent of its overall numbers.

An analysis by the Economic Advisory Council to the prime minister, released on Thursday, claimed that between 1950 and 2015 India’s Muslim population had increased by 43.14 per cent, while its Hindu population had decreased by 7.82 per cent, fuelling the BJP claim that Muslims will demographically surpass Hindus.

The independent Population Foundation of India non-governmental organisation dismissed this report as “misleading, inaccurate and alarmist rhetoric”. It claimed official census data had revealed the growth rate among Muslims is declining.

Political commentators, meanwhile, said Mr Modi has been provoked by an internal BJP assessment of a 5-9 per cent drop in voter turnout in the three previous phases of polling in 284 of 543 parliamentary constituencies.

They maintain that the decline in states such as Uttar Pradesh, neighbouring Rajasthan and Bihar, all of which voted significantly for the BJP in the 2014 and 2019 elections, has “agitated” the BJP leadership, triggering anti-Muslim comments and personalised jibes against opposition leaders by the prime minister.

The opposition alliance received a boost on Friday when India’s top court gave temporary bail to Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal in a graft case, allowing him to campaign.

The supreme court said Mr Kejriwal – a fierce critic of Mr Modi – would be out on bail until June 1st, the last day of the nationwide seven-phase vote, and would have to return to pretrial detention on June 2nd.

The two areas governed by Mr Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party – the National Capital Territory that includes New Delhi, and the northern state of Punjab – go to the polls on May 25th and June 1st, respectively. – Additional reporting: Reuters

Rahul Bedi

Rahul Bedi

Rahul Bedi is a contributor to The Irish Times based in New Delhi