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Food, Clothes, Prayers, Population: You Name it, the BJP Has Communalised it

In the party's 2024 election campaign, dog-whistle tactics have been replaced by more direct assaults.
Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

There is no facet of public or private life that the Bharatiya Janata Party has not communalised in the 2024 Lok Sabha election. Food, clothing, names, reservations, population, history, geopolitics, places of worship, slogans or voting – you name it, they’ve communalised it.

While the 2014 and 2019 election campaigns of the party did carry deep communal undertones, they were presented through the rhetorical façade of vikas (development), labhartis (beneficiaries) and national security. The 2024 election, in which Narendra Modi is seeking a third successive term as India’s prime minister, however, has witnessed an unprecedented display of communal vitriol and demonisation of the country’s Muslims, and by impact, the Opposition. Dog-whistle tactics have been replaced by more direct assaults.

Here, we document the myriad ways in which the BJP’s senior leaders have tried to mobilise Hindu voters against the Opposition parties by manufacturing insecurity among them and projecting the saffron party’s political rivals as anti-Hindu, even though almost all of them are Hindu. The focus here is on the key state of Uttar Pradesh, which, with 80 seats, plays a major role in deciding who rules India.


Like in the previous two elections, the BJP has not fielded a single Muslim candidate in UP. The community comprises one-fifth of the state’s electorate, yet the party has not found a single Muslim to contest on its ticket.


Two slogans by deputy chief minister of UP Keshav Prasad Maurya outline how within just two years, the saffron party has intensified its communal politics. In the 2022 state assembly election, Maurya had formulated a catchy slogan to encapsulate the BJP’s tactics of polarising all Hindu communities against Muslims, Yadavs (OBCs loyal to the Samajwadi Party) and Jatavs (Dalits loyal to the Bahujan Samaj Party), who together comprise roughly 40% of the state’s population. “100 mein 60 hamara. 40 mein batwara hai. Aur batware mein bhi hamara hai,” said Maurya in 2022. This translates to: “60% out of 100 is ours. The remaining 40 are divided. And even in that 40%, we have a share.” The ‘share’ refers to the BJP’s strategy of weaning away a section of Yadavs and Jatavs through Hindutva, welfare schemes or local representation.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

In his 2024 campaign, however, Maurya, one of the most well-known OBC faces of the BJP in UP, has replaced that with something even more menacing. “100 mein se 80% hamara hai. 20% mein batwara hai. Aur uss batware mein bhi hamara hai (80% out of 100 are ours. The remaining 20 are divided. But even in that 20, we have a share),” said Maurya. In simple words, this means that while all of the 80% Hindus of the state are with the BJP, the 20% Muslims are divided between the two main Opposition sides – the INDIA bloc and the Bahujan Samaj Party. This hints at complete Hindu consolidation, as evidenced by the BJP’s blunting of the anti-Yadav card this election, to isolate Muslim voters as the only ones opposing the saffron party. But Maurya also adds a pinch of irony to it. He claims that the BJP will get a share in the 20% (read: Muslims) as well because the party has worked to provide honour, representation and development to all sections – sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabko sthan and sabko samman.

While discrediting the Congress candidate and MP Kunwar Danish Ali in Amroha, Modi asked if it was proper for a “person who doesn’t accept Bharat Mata ki Jai” to be allowed entry inside Parliament.

Also read: In Amroha’s Triangular Fight, BJP Banked on Communal Polarisation

Ram Mandir

The BJP has used the temple in Ayodhya to attack the Opposition and woo Hindus in various ways. First, the BJP is openly seeking votes as a reward for getting the temple constructed at the site where the Babri Masjid stood for centuries. “Jo Ram ko laye hain, hum unko layenge (Those who got Ram’s temple built, we will bring them to power),” chief minister Yogi Adityanath says in his rallies, explaining why he thinks people will bring the BJP to power again.

Second, the BJP has demonised Opposition leaders, especially the top leadership of the Samajwadi Party and the Congress, for declining to attend the politically-loaded consecration ceremony of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya on January 22, presided over by Modi. The 2024 election has turned into a contest between “Ram bhakts (devotees) and Ram drohis (traitors),” says Adityanath. “Only a Ram bhakt will rule over India,” he said at a rally, postulating that if someone who opposed Ram had ever emerged victorious the Hindus today would have been worshipping Ravan, Kumbhakaran, Meghnad and Marich. Third, the BJP is also constantly attacking the Congress for denying the existence of Lord Ram, especially in the Ram Setu matter of the UPA era. “Questioning Ram’s existence means questioning our existence,” Adityanath said.

Firing on karsevaks

The BJP has in an unrestrained manner referred to the firing on ‘karsevaks’ by the police during the rule of Mulayam Singh Yadav in 1990, when fundamentalist majoritarian activists were trying to demolish the Babri Masjid. This tactic to keep the wounds sore remains the BJP’s most convenient card to remind new voters of the tumultuous politics of the 1990s.

Vote bank

For decades, the phrase ‘vote bank’ has remained the BJP’s favourite dog-whistle approach to project Muslims as a uniform voting entity mobilised by non-BJP parties. It is true that Muslims, who have been at the receiving end of communal politics since Independence, have been compelled to vote for parties or candidates best placed to defeat the BJP, but the saffron party’s use of ‘vote bank’ is often derogatory and alienating. In this election, the BJP has interpreted the Opposition’s refusal to visit the Ram Mandir not as a matter of principle against Hindutva but because these parties are “scared” of the wrath of the vote bank.

In Bahraich, Adityanath used a similar argument to claim that the Congress never got a grand memorial made for Suheldev – a mythical Bhar chieftain advertised as anti-Muslim by the BJP – as it feared its Muslim “vote bank” would slip away. Senior BJP leaders are also reminding voters what ‘vote bank’ means, in case they forgot. “People of Hardoi, you know who their vote bank is, right,” asked Union home minister Amit Shah in central UP.

Another favourite word of the BJP to draw attention to Muslims is the word “appeasement” – a myth used to accuse Opposition parties of pandering to Muslims at the cost of Hindus.


The Mughal emperors are long gone, but they continue to feature in the BJP’s election campaign for a modern Viksit Bharat. In Mainpuri, Adityanath referred to SP workers as “progeny of Akbar and Aurangzeb” as he threatened to take action against them after the election for climbing atop a statue of Maharana Pratap, although the SP stressed that it was only paying tribute to the Rajput icon. The BJP also refers to Aurangzeb in the context of the temples in Varanasi and Mathura, which were destroyed during his era.

At another rally, Shah said that if the two shehzade (referring to Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi) came to power in 2024, they would put a “Babri lock” on the Ram Mandir. Adityanath, while referring to the BJP’s deviously-concocted story that the Congress would introduce an “inheritance tax” and redistribute property and wealth of people if it came to power, said it was a “modern form of Aurangzeb’s jaziya tax on Hindus”.


While talking about the colours of the caps worn by the BJP and SP workers, Maurya took a sly dig at the round, netted caps worn by Muslims all across the Indian subcontinent. “The bhagwa topi (saffron cap) looks nice. But do you like these people with the red caps and along with them the ones with jalidar topis (netted caps)?” Maurya asked at a rally – bringing back a communal trope he has used in the past. At another public meeting in Kaiserganj, Maurya said that before 2014 Opposition leaders would go around seeking votes wearing jalidar topi. “Do you see anyone seeking votes in jalidar topi now? This happened because you helped the lotus bloom and made Modi the PM,” he said.


Under the ‘Linguistic and Religious Minorities’ section of the Congress’s manifesto, the party promised that it would “ensure that, like every citizen, minorities have the freedom of choice of dress, food, language and personal laws”. The BJP mischievously interpreted this to mean that the Congress, if voted to power, would allow Muslims to slaughter cows and eat beef.

“Do minority people eat something different? They also must be eating dal, rice, roti, sabzi, fruits, bananas and apples. But there is a difference over one food item. Hindus don’t eat gau mans (beef). A Hindu will not eat beef and also not allow cows to be slaughtered,” Adityanath said. If the people voted for those who eat beef, it would amount to committing a paap (sin), Adityanath added, warning them of divine consequences.


Modi set the ball rolling at a rally in Rajasthan where he falsely claimed that the Congress had promised that if it came to power it would redistribute the nation’s wealth and property “to those who have more children”, clearly referring to Muslims, as his speech was about them. Modi’s remarks not only demonised Muslims but also presented a false picture about India’s complex demographics. Barely had the controversy died down that a report from the PM’s Economic Advisory Council – published right in the middle of the election – tried to create a sensation by saying that the share of minorities in India’s population had increased between 1950 and 2015 while the share of Hindus had fallen.

Also read: The EAC-PM’s Paper on ‘Muslim Population’ Is a Travesty of Research Practices

At a rally in Unnao, the sitting BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj used the skewed population theory to justify why it was necessary to bring back Modi. He first started by talking about how the population of Hindus had dipped in Pakistan before dishing out numbers from the PM-EAC report to claim that the share of Hindus had fallen in the country in the last 75 years while others had grown exponentially. “Jab jab Hindu ghata hai, tab tab desh bata hai (Whenever the population of Hindus has gone down, our nation has been divided). That is why, you must preserve Modi and Yogi,” said Sakshi Maharaj, whose real name is Sachidanand Hari. In an interview to a television channel, he even demanded that a population control law be implemented in India. “Char biwi, 40 bacche desh mein nahi chalenge (Four wives and 40 children will not work),” Maharaj said, amplifying the Islamophobic stereotype that Muslim men marry four times.


The BJP’s all-weather favourite, our neighbouring country, has featured prominently in the party’s campaign, either through references to the 2019 Balakot airstrike or ridiculing it for its economic crisis or accusing the Congress leader Rahul Gandhi of furthering Pakistan’s “agenda”. “Aye, Imran! If our Abhinandan does not return to India in 48 hours, we will erase Pakistan from the map of the world,” Maurya said at a rally, repeating what, according to him, Modi told Pakistan PM Imran Khan during the Balakot crisis in 2019. The BJP is also using the economic situation in Pakistan to play up its free ration scheme. “Pakistan is even smaller than UP. Its population is 23-24 crore. Here, we are giving free ration to 80 crore people, while people there are starving to death. More than 25 crore people across the country, more than Pakistan’s population, have been pulled out of the Below Poverty Line category in 10 years by Modi,” said Adityanath. Maurya even went to the extent to declare that if the BJP and its allies win over 400 seats in the country, India would unfurl the tricolour in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. In Bahraich, Adityanath said that Pakistan was so scared of a repeat surgical strike and airstrike by India that every time there was a bomb blast somewhere, it was quick in issuing a clarification delinking itself from the incident.


The BJP is not only seeking votes for the reading down of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, but also spreading the perception that if the Congress is voted to power, it will restore Article 370. “Every child of Kaushambi is ready to sacrifice his life for Kashmir,” Shah said. He repeats a similar line in every district he campaigns in.

Hindu ‘exodus’

Although the conspiracy theory of a Hindu exodus in western UP under the SP government has been debunked several times, it still features in the BJP’s campaign. In Amroha, Modi himself brought up the issue to flare Hindu insecurity. “In West UP, people used to be forced to collectively put-up posters of ‘This house is for sale’. Our behen-betiyan (sisters and daughters) were not safe,” said Modi.

Caste and reservations

Led by Modi, the BJP is indulging in fear-mongering among the OBC, Dalit and tribal Hindus by propagating among them that the Congress plans to snatch their share in reservations and give it to Muslims. Modi, while falsely accusing the Congress of providing Muslims reservation by snatching the share of OBCs in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, said the Congress had executed it one strike, through a “fatwa”. Adityanath has tried to project the Congress’s promise of a caste census as a ploy to divide and distract Hindus so that they can be “looted” and Muslims can benefit out of their quotas. The BJP has also communalised the expert committee reports by Justice Sachar and Ranganath Misra on the state of minorities to pit against them Hindu Dalits.


Modi asked that if the Congress comes to power, would it “Convert the Ram Mandir into a hospital?” and “Run a bulldozer over the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor?” in Varanasi. Adityanath asked: “If a grand temple for Ram is not built in Ayodhya, should it be built in Kandahar or Kabul, or Lahore or Karachi?”


The BJP’s top leadership is referring to the SP government’s attempts to withdraw terror cases filed against ‘innocent’ Muslims during its rule in 2013 to project the party as a sympathiser of terrorism. In Sitapur, Adityanath said that the Akhilesh Yadav government had withdrawn cases against “terrorists” who attacked the Sankat Mochan Temple in Varanasi, the Ram Janmabhoomi temple in Ayodhya, district courts in Lucknow, Ayodhya and Varanasi and the CRPF camp in Rampur but the move was thwarted by the Allahabad high court. While talking about this at a rally in Dhaurahra, Modi even claimed that “sleeper cells” of terrorists operated in UP when the SP ruled and accused the party of putting officials under pressure to not file chargesheets against “terrorists” or force them to withdraw such cases. Days ahead of voting on May 13, Subrat Pathak, the BJP MP and Akhilesh Yadav’s opponent in Kannauj, even shot off a letter to the district election officer claiming that the SP had brought in a lot of outsiders, many linked to a “particular community”, to carry out terror acts in Kannauj.


Linked to ‘terrorism’ is the BJP’s constant vilification of Muslim names. Prime among them is Shah’s reference to “Aliya, Maliya, Jamaliya,” in the context of militants infiltrating Indian territory to carry out terror acts. Under the Congress rule, Shah said, “Aliya, Maliya, Jamaliya would enter from Pakistan and carry out bomb blasts.” Aliya is a common Muslim name for women. Maliya and Jamaliya are distortions of Muslim names and together, the three names have a distinct Muslim sound to it, akin to the usage of “Tom, Dick and Harry” to portray random, common people.

Vote jihad

Taking cue from Modi, who has said that Muslims are mobilising against the BJP as part of a “vote jihad”, Maurya said the Opposition in UP was “seeking votes in the name of jihad”. While the BJP followed “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas,” the BJP’s opponents believed in “Kuch ka saath, Musalmano ka vikas,” said Maurya in Basti.

Law and order

Although the BJP often speaks about Adityanath’s iron-fisted approach towards law and order through a neutral lens, it is often communally loaded, especially when it involves Muslim politicians accused of crime. Adityanath referred to former MP Atiq Ahmad, who was last year shot dead in presence of police, as the “Mafia of Prayagraj” whose property the government seized. Adityanath boasted how he had built homes for the poor on the property seized from Ahmad, who he said was accused of killing an OBC. In another reference to a Muslim leader, probably Ahmad or Mukhtar Ansari, Adityanath said that “a mafia, who enjoyed power during SP govt, urinated in his pants when our government dragged him to court”.

Mukhtar Ansari

The former MLA and convicted politician who died recently in judicial custody under suspicious circumstances has been a major part of the BJP’s 2024 campaign. BJP leaders have questioned why Akhilesh Yadav visited Ansari’s native Ghazipur to offer final respects after his death but did not display the same courtesy when Kalyan Singh, the former BJP chief minister known for facilitating the demolition of the Babri Masjid, died in 2021 aged 89. To communalise the matter, the BJP is spreading the myth that Yadav read the “fatiha” (Muslim prayer) over Ansari’s grave.


Jaiveer Singh, UP minister and the BJP’s candidate in Mainpuri, in a post on social media alleged that while Akhilesh Yadav had eaten “sewai” and greeted people on Eid, he forgot about Ram Navami.


While the BJP led by Modi has based its entire 2024 campaign on the fabricated idea that the Congress manifesto – Modi calls it the Muslim League manifesto – promises that the property, land, money, gold and mangalsutras worn by married Hindu women would be investigated and confiscated, Adityanath gave it another angle when he claimed that the Congress was planning to implement Sharia law. “Congress manifesto says that if we come to power, we will implement Sharia law. Bharat will run on the basis of the constitution of Ambedkar, not some Sharia.” Once again, the BJP misrepresented the Congress’s manifesto. The Congress has not promised any Sharia law but only said that all minorities would have the freedom of their personal laws, an arrangement which already exists in the absence of a nationwide Uniform Civil Code.

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