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Election Commission Declines Comment as Modi Gives His Most Divisive Speech in 30 Years

In Banswada on Sunday, Modi invoked the spectre of the Congress 'redistributing' 'mangalsutra', 'gold', 'land' and 'property' of 'mothers-sisters' to those who have many children and are 'infiltrators', misleadingly referring to an 18-year speech by Manmohan Singh about Muslims allegedly having the first right to resources.
Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

New Delhi: The more one is led to believe that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi has grown out of his divisive rhetoric over time, the more one is made to go back to his days as the chief minister of Gujarat, where he shot to fame as the brand ambassador of communal hate. 

A spokesperson for the Election Commission (EC) meanwhile, after repeated queries from members of the Press since the morning, finally said “we decline comment.” The Election Commission has earlier sent a notice to Uddhav Thackeray, asking him to drop certain words from the campaign, ‘Hindu’ and ‘Jai Bhawani’, which he has flatly refused to do, saying Modi should be sent a notice first.

Modi supporters in the middle classes speak about his vision of development and view him as the greatest leader of India, a statesman par excellence. The BJP manifesto talks about his ambition of making India “vikshit” (developed) by 2047 and the third largest economy by 2028. 

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

Yet, deep within, Modi and his BJP betray a sense of lack of confidence, forcing them to invoke the only political card they have tried to repeatedly encash since the party’s inception – anti-Muslim hate.

Until now, the Prime Minister invoked the newly-built Ram Mandir in Ayodhya as a ploy to trigger Indian Muslims, who have – in almost exemplary fashion – remained stoic in the midst of all communal attacks by the BJP. He used the Ram Mandir also to project the opposition as an anti-Hindu and pro-Muslim, in a clear attempt to polarise the Lok Sabha polls along religious lines as the opposition across the country continue to raise issues like rising unemployment, inflation, and income inequality. 

Yet, it appears that the Ram Mandir issue has failed to enthuse a large section of the Hindu electorate, contrary to what the BJP had predicted earlier. It has clearly not been an effective instrument to provoke Hindus enough against Muslims, as the low turnout in the first phase of the polls reflected. The political scientist Yogendra Yadav, while talking about how livelihood issues are gradually emerging as the biggest concerns of the electorate, showed how the dip in voting percentage was greater in seats held by the BJP-led NDA than those that were won by non-NDA parties. The trend clearly indicated a lack of enthusiasm among BJP cadres. 

Living up to his image of a Hindutva icon, therefore, the Prime Minister decided to give that extra push to his cynical politics, hoping that the tired Hindu-Muslim polarisation trope may still give him some electoral advantage like it did in the last two Lok Sabha elections. 

Also read: Parts of Modi’s Speech That Violate MCC Missing from English Summary on PM’s Website

In Rajasthan’s Banswara, Modi directly stoked Hindu communalism by stereotyping Muslims as a community that is sex-obsessed and reproduces more than any other.

Despite the fact that the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in one of his speeches had said that the first right to India’s resources belong to the marginalised communities like Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the minorities, the BJP has spun the sentiment often to claim that Singh believed that the country’s resources should first be distributed to Muslims.

Modi not only repeated the same falsehood once again on April 21, 2024 in his election rally but made evident his deep-rooted prejudice against Muslims, quite contrary to his claims that his government believed in everyone’s progress. 

In saying that every vote to the opposition will be used to distribute wealth earned by the Hindus to Muslims who have more children and who are infiltrators, he went on to say that the Congress may even distribute Hindu women’s “mangalsutras” to Muslims. That such a statement is unbecoming of a prime minister will only be an understatement. 

Recall, Modi’s famous statement in the period following the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat where he, as the chief minister of the state, had refused to create relief shelters for Muslims, claiming that he didn’t want these shelters to become procreation centres for a community that believes in “hum do, humare pachees (we are two, we have 25)”.

He brought out the hate that he spewed then against Muslim victims of the communal riots again in Banswara where he villainised Muslim refugees as ‘infiltrators’ – in stark contrast to his government’s own law the Citizenship Amendment Act that not only welcomes non-Muslim refugees in India but also guarantees them Indian citizenship. In what got called out as cynical, the Aam Aadmi Party had recently asked the BJP whether such an Act giving out citizenship to refugees would not crowd the already shrinking space of jobs, education, and health care in India. 

Given how Modi has chosen to perpetuate even greater cynicism in the polls, instead of banking on the achievements and vision of his government, many may actually begin to repeat what the AAP had asked the BJP earlier. 

The BJP has fallen back to brand the opposition forces as “anti-Hindu,” and therefore, “pro-Muslim.” The opposition has hit back, saying that the prime minister’s communally-charged speech is an admission of his government’s non-performance, even as it was allegedly a diversionary tactic to deflect attention from people’s livelihood issues. 

The electoral battle between political parties aside, the attention is now on the Election Commission of India and its independence. The PM’s speech was evidently filled with wrong claims and hateful remarks. Nothing could be a more clear violation of the model code of conduct that prevents political leaders and parties from exhorting religion and promoting communal hatred to seek votes. 

Several opposition parties have complained and more are likely to send a formal complaint to the ECI.

Civil society organisations and the ADR election watchdog’s Jagdeep S. Chhokar wrote to the three Election Commissioners saying that it is a violation of (a) the Model Code of Conduct, (b) Sections 123(3) and (3A), 125 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code.

He said that he is writing “as a concerned citizen of India and a keen observer of the political and electoral situation in the country, while being completely non-partisan about all political parties.” He said, attaching a copy of the speech, that no one would be in any doubt over the speech being a violation of the code of conduct.

He urged the Commission “to take appropriate action on the violations as described.”, saying that “given the election is already underway, it is absolutely necessary that the action be taken without any loss of time. I really look forward to hearing from you very soon.” (emphasis and underlining in original letter to the ECs)

But the question remains as to whether the ECI will take any action despite declining comment. Will it again choose to ignore such blatant attempts to polarise the Lok Sabha polls by none other than the Prime Minister? This is the time when the ECI can allay doubts about its independence and gain some confidence in the eyes of the people.

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