Modi’s anti-Muslim barbs always fly before polls

His ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas’ slogan has been hollowed out by his own statements.

WrittenBy:Jyoti Punwani
Date:
At a rally in Rajasthan, Modi claimed the Congress planned to redistribute private wealth among Muslims.

Narendra Modi’s speech in Rajasthan equating Muslims with “infiltrators” and “those with more children” counts among the most direct insults of the country’s largest minority by the Prime Minister while appealing for votes. But it’s certainly not his first, and could even be seen as a logical end to a long campaign – replete with anti-minority barbs – to seek majority votes.

Modi had first equated Muslims with infiltrators in 2013, when as Gujarat CM and PM aspirant, he spoke about two categories of Bangladeshi immigrants in Assam: those fleeing religious persecution, and those brought in to further “vote bank politics”, he said. Shouldn’t “Ma Bharti” welcome the former, and shouldn’t the latter who were “snatching away the jobs and rights of those born here be driven away”, he asked the audience. In a subsequent speech in West Bengal, he was more explicit: from Bangladesh, only those who “celebrated Durgashtami” were welcome.

A study conducted by this reporter for the now-defunct website of the media watchdog The Hoot showed how Modi’s campaign for the PM post had “vote bank politics” as a theme, for which he blamed all opposition parties, and whose “definition” became clear from the examples he listed out. 

First bid for PM post, and a new vote bank

Among those he cited were the Samajwadi Party’s attempt to withdraw cases against terror accused in UP; then home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde’s advice to police to not target innocent Muslims in terror cases; and the threat to Kaziranga National Park because of alleged poaching by illegal immigrants.

A common question followed these examples – whether vote bank politics was a good policy. And with a roaring disapproval, Modi’s listeners vented their anger at the implied beneficiaries of vote bank politics.

In Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat, just six months after the Muzaffarnagar riots, Modi rued that “vote bank politics’’ had led to “our bahu betis” not being able to walk freely, and their parents forced to accept this situation with “bowed heads”. The reference wasn’t lost on anyone as the alleged harassment of a Hindu girl by Muslim youths had been hyped as the flashpoint of communal violence.

Even the Centre’s subsidies for meat export were projected as an example of “vote bank politics”, for the same government gave no subsidies for rearing milch cattle, specially cows, said Modi. 

In at least four places with a substantial Muslim population, Modi described the “Pink Revolution” in graphic detail: “pink was the colour of the flesh cut for mutton and meat export”. To turn this into an example of vote bank politics, Modi cited the Karnataka Congress government’s repeal of the anti-cow slaughter law introduced by the previous BJP government. 

Wherever he went, the prime ministerial candidate made it a point not just to first visit the locally important place of worship, but also, in his opening remarks, to mention this, and list other shrines as well as the historical personalities associated with those constituencies. 

While projecting himself as a devout Hindu who worshipped all Hindu deities, Modi also extolled Mahavir, Buddha, and Guru Gobind Singh. Not once however, did he take the name of any Muslim saint, not even in Ajmer, where lies the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. In Shahjahanpur, he didn’t mention Ashfaqullah Khan, the freedom fighter hanged along with Ram Prasad Bismil for the 1925 Kakori train robbery.

Modi didn’t just project himself as a devout Hindu, but went further, and linked his religiosity with nationalism. He had been fortunate to have started his campaign at the shrine of Vaishno Devi, he told his last rally, and to end it in the homeland of the 1857 rebellion icon Mangal Pandey. Wishing his audience on Ram Navami, he asked them to take a vow to “free India”, and linked the BJP’s lotus symbol with the Goddess Lakshmi.

The themes that have come to dominate the Modi government years were therefore prevalent throughout the campaign aimed at making him prime minister. Modi extolled Sardar Patel as a symbol of a united India, while blaming Nehru and the Congress for “vote bank politics”, Partition and even linguistic states. He cast himself as the successor of Patel, as one who took everyone along, while the Congress hid behind the “burqa of secularism”. 

And in the process of condemning “vote bank politics”, Modi succeeded in creating a Hindu vote bank.

Despite all this, the mainstream media couldn’t stop gushing about “Modi the moderate” who eschewed caste and religion to ask for votes in the name of “vikas”. 

The second term, and a pattern

The same strategy of fostering resentment against Muslims has continued even after Modi won his prize in 2014. 

For example, in 2015, during the Bihar assembly elections, PM Modi warned a rally about a “conspiracy’’ by his rivals to snatch away the benefits of reservation in education and jobs from Scheduled Castes and Backward groups and give them to “a particular community”. 

In the 2017 UP assembly elections, the PM declared that if a kabristaan was built in a village, so should a shamshaan. If Ramzan meant uninterrupted power supply, so should Diwali. 

In the 2019 Lok Sabha campaign, Modi mocked Rahul Gandhi for contesting from Wayanad, a place he described as one where “the minority is the majority’’.

In the same campaign, the PM defended the BJP’s decision to field Malegaon blast accused Pragya Singh Thakur from Bhopal, by saying that this was a “symbol...to answer those who defamed a 5,000-year-old culture...and called them terrorists”. 

A slogan deprived of meaning

After his re-election, Modi, during the Jharkhand assembly polls the same year, said that those “fanning the flames of the anti-CAA protests could be recognised by their clothes”.  

On August 5, 2021, launching his campaign for the UP assembly polls, PM Modi spoke of the significance of the date. In 2019, it was the day when his government had repealed Article 370. In 2020, it was the date when he laid the foundation stone of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, for which “crores of Indians” had waited for “thousands of years”. He knew the human cost and the divisive history behind the two issues, but he still picked those two points to kick off the BJP’s poll campaign.

And last year, campaigning for the Karnataka assembly polls, the PM accused his main rival, the Congress, of having “locked up Lord Ram” and having made plans to “lock up Lord Hanuman”. He was referring to the Congress manifesto’s promise of action against the Bajrang Dal. He ended his rallies with the religious cry “Jai Bajrang Bali”, and asked his audience to chant the same when they pressed the button to vote.

During the Rajasthan election campaign, the PM blamed Udaipur tailor Kanhaiyyalal’s murder by two radical Muslims on the Congress’s “vote bank politics” – even when the Congress government had arrested the suspects within hours of the incident.

Now, as he seeks his third term, the PM has condemned the Congress’s election manifesto as a reflection of the ideology of the pre-Independence Muslim League, which is seen as largely responsible for the Partition. “Every page reeks of attempts to tear India apart,” said the PM. 

When he began his second term in 2019, the PM had modified his 2014 slogan of “sabka saath, sabka vikas” by adding “sabka vishwaas”. 

But that slogan, as it turns out, has been hollowed out by his own utterances.

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