For the best experience, open
on your mobile browser or Download our App.

Modi’s Islamophobic Speech Shows Despite Tall Claims, BJP Is Jittery About 2024

In Banswara, where the prime minister delivered the speech on Sunday, the Congress has extended its support to the Bharat Adivasi Party, which is drawing huge crowds in support of its candidate and incumbent MLA from Chorasi, Rajkumar Roat.
Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

The outrage over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s blatantly Islamophobic speech in Rajasthan, wherein he cautioned the public that if Congress comes to power, ‘it will distribute wealth to those with more children’ is rightly expected to not die down anytime soon.

Even as the prime minister weaved his narrative around the claim of a statement made by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh – the claim has been proven incorrect as Singh’s words were misconstrued – and used it to imply that Congress is a party that favours Muslims, this blatant dog whistling did betray the desperateness of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), just after the first phase of the Lok Sabha elections concluded.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

The speech in question was delivered at the meeting of the National Development Council by Singh on December 9, 2006. He had said resources must be allocated to uplift people from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes communities, backward classes, minorities, women, and children. He said that India needs to plan the development of minorities, particularly the Muslim minority, in a manner that they are “empowered to share equitably the fruits of development”.

“Agriculture, irrigation and water resources, health, education, critical investment in rural infrastructure, and the essential public investment needs of general infrastructure, along with programmes for the upliftment of SC/STs, other backward classes, minorities and women and children. The component plans for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes will need to be revitalized. We will have to devise innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the Muslim minority, are empowered to share equitably in the fruits of development. They must have the first claim on resources. The Centre has a myriad other responsibilities whose demands will have to be fitted within the over-all resource availability [sic],” reads the transcript of Manmohan Singh’s speech in the government archive.

The Model Code of Conduct mandates that no party or candidate shall indulge in any activity which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic.

There shall be no appeal to caste or communal feelings for securing votes. Mosques, churches, temples or other places of worship shall not be used as a forum for election propaganda.

Further, according to Section 123(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951: “Appeals by a candidate, or any other person with the consent of a candidate, to vote or refrain from voting on the ground of his religion, race, caste, community or language is a corrupt electoral practice. Section 123(3A) denounces any attempt by a candidate to promote feelings of enmity or hatred among citizens on these grounds during elections. Anyone found guilty of corrupt electoral practice can be debarred from contesting elections for a maximum period of up to six years.”

Modi blatantly violated this code and the RPA, 1951 during his election meeting on April 22 at Banswara in the state of Rajasthan, aiming at not only appealing to ‘communal feelings’ but also instigating and aggravating hatred in the Hindus against Muslims.

Why would Modi, whose party has set a target of 400 seats in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, try so hard to demonise the Congress by taking an openly anti-Muslim stance that would seem brazen even by the deplorable standards of his own partymen speaking?

At this point of time, when the BJP has repeatedly mocked the Congress and the INDIA alliance, and appeared confident of a third term for Modi, even a cautionary approach suggesting what would happen if Congress comes to power stands out as odd.

Modi opting for a hardline Hindutva-laden rhetoric and not shying away from publicly naming the Muslim community before talking about ‘those with more wealth’ coincides with the fact that the speech came at a time when in states such as Rajasthan, the voter turnout of the first phase of the Lok Sabha elections has decreased when compared to the same figure for the 2019 Indian general elections.

For example, Rajasthan recorded around 58% voter turnout on April 19, the day when the first phase for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections were concluded in the state. Back in 2019, when the BJP had won all 25 seats in the state, this figure was much higher, with a voter turnout of 63.71%.

Is the comparatively smaller voter turnout a sign of worry for the BJP? If the answer is in the negative, and the BJP was sure of a walk over, then we would not have been seeing the BJP repeatedly trying to set the election’s agenda around Hindutva, a culmination of which was Modi’s speech.

While noting the fact that Modi had to resort to such divisive words, it cannot be discounted that in many constituencies, the electoral contest between the BJP and Congress is no longer as one-sided as it was in 2019.

Take the case of Banswara, where Modi delivered the speech on Sunday. In Banswara, the Congress has extended its support to the Bharat Adivasi Party (BAP), which is drawing huge crowds in support of its candidate and incumbent MLA from Chorasi, Rajkumar Roat.

While the BJP is relying on Congress’s turncoat leader Mahendrajeet Singh Malviya, the public support in favour of Roat cannot be ignored.

In a different era, the Election Commission would have taken note of the controversial parts violating the MCC in Modi’s speech, which are missing from the long summary of Modi’s election speech uploaded in English in his personal website.

But a day later, the EC declined to comment on the incident.

While the Congress, reeling from the freezing of its bank accounts, ED raids and leaders jumping ship, has managed to bring out a progressive election manifesto, it is open to criticism from the ruling BJP, its political arch rival.

But the concocted manner in which Modi gave a communal spin to his speech, even going to the extent of saying that it will redistribute the wealth of women after taking stock of the gold they have, reflects the desperation of the BJP to eke polarisation to its last drop.

Modi’s tenure will be remembered for overseeing the unprecedented sale and mortgage of gold jewellery owned by Indian women citizens.

As Congress leader Jairam Ramesh pointed out recently, economic disasters like demonetisation, a badly-designed GST, and the Modi government’s unplanned lockdown, along with poor COVID relief packages, have pushed India’s households into the highest levels of debt (40% of GDP). Net savings are at their lowest level ever (5% of GDP). Families have been forced to sell their gold or take loans by pledging their gold as collateral – a state of distress and desperation.

Recall that just during the pandemic alone, due to the Modi Sarkar’s complete incompetence, negligence, and mismanagement, India’s women had to give up over Rs. 60,000 crore worth of gold as collateral. Their gold was auctioned off by lenders and banks in full-page ads,” Ramesh continued. This wasn’t just negligence; it was a betrayal.

Akhil Chaudhary is a human rights lawyer based in Rajasthan. He posts on X @akhilchaudhary.

Make a contribution to Independent Journalism
facebook twitter