India election: Modi’s divisive campaign rhetoric raises questions

India election: Modi's divisive campaign rhetoric raises questions
Narendra Modi, India's prime minister, during a campaign rally in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India, on Thursday, April 25, 2024. Modi doubled down on his attacks against the main opposition party by using language critics say sows division between the country's Hindu majority and Muslim minority.Getty Images

In the guide- up to India’s public election, Narendra Modi was expected to shape it as a vote on his generation as prime minister.

He was expected to gloat about accomplishments like extravaganza and spaceflights. He intended to restate that the new Ram church in Ayodhya represented an assertion of Hindu culture in India. With Mr. Modi hosting the G20 summit in September, the publicity raise that was anticipated to have an impact on the ballot was even expected to have an impact on foreign policy. His Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP) won a third, record-equaling victory in a landslide, according to polls.

But earlier in the gruelling six- year election, Mr Modi’s plan shifted wheels, using divisive speech that has raised concerns about his tactics. He’s been accusing the antagonism, led by the Congress party, of appeasing the Muslim minority group.

Muslims make up 14 % of India’s more than 1.4 billion people. Taking a cue from Mr Modi’s promotion, social media posts by the BJP have, according to the criticism, “demonised” Muslims.
He told a march on 21 April that the opposition Congress wanted to deliver wealth to “infiltrators” and to” those who have some kids”. His notes were viewed as mentioning Muslims in general.

He warned girls at a different march that the opposition would seize their gold and give it back to Muslims. He accused the Congress of orchestrating a “vote jihad”, urging a “certain area” to unite against him. Yet Mr. Modi asserted that the Congress do” choose the Indian cricket team based on their religion.”

: Muslim offer their namaaz on ocassion of Eid Ul Fitr at YMCA Ground, Bombay Central on April 11, 2024 in Mumbai, India. (Photo by Anshuman Poyrekar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

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That’s not all. Mr. Modi claimed in a new interview that the “whole world” was attempting to influence the votes. This year, Mr Modi blamed the Congress for taking” boatloads” of funds from entrepreneurs Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani. Rahul Gandhi, the head of the Congress, has long attributed Mr. Modi’s close ties to the two richest men in the country.

You have addressed Adani and Ambani in public for the first time. Do you know that trucks give wealth, in your opinion? Mr Gandhi responded in a digital communication. The comments have n’t been responded to by any businesspeople.

India’s criticism has also accused Mr Modi of Islamophobia, calling his comment “divisive, love speech”. A possible code of conduct infraction has been the subject of a request from the Congress. Since the BJP’s rise to power, hate talk against India’s 200 million Muslims has increased. However, some people were expecting a focus on highlighting Mr. Modi’s accomplishments with his fiery speech on the tree.

According to Rahul Verma of the Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research ( CPR ),” to be honest, I thought Mr. Modi’s campaign would be much more about the rising India story and what they had done for the people.”

Some say Mr Modi’s notes are not exceptional. They point to many such occasions during his previous election activities, including what they call his “inflammatory language” after the protests in Gujarat in 2002 ahead of the country’s council elections. ” So, it has not surprised me, but is has shocked me. There is no subtlety in the language being used, according to Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Milan Vaishnav.

A woman casts her ballot at a polling station during the third phase voting in India's general election, in Guwahati on May 7, 2024. (


In the first round of voting, many claim that the BJP might have been spooked by a significant drop in turnout in a largely low-energy election. In the previous two elections, won decisively by the BJP, high turnouts benefitted the party- 2014 was largely a vote against the Congress, and 2019 was a vote for Mr Modi.

Second, the opposition has been trying to reshape the narrative of the 2024 election, shifting focus from being solely a referendum on Mr Modi to campaigning on issues like unemployment, social justice and economic inequality.

Neelanjan Sircar, a political scientist, claims that the BJP succeeds in national elections because it prioritizes overarching national issues. He told a podcast recently that the party’s not “playing its strongest game” when elections become more regionalised, and local factors come into play.
Mr Modi’s party is targeting 370 seats this time, up from 303 in 2019. However, their rallying cry of” Abki Baar, 400 par” ( This time, above 400 ), aiming for the party and its allies to secure a landslide, might have backfired. The BJP is seen as a powerful force poised to completely transform India, with the opposition claiming to have taken advantage of the slogan.

” The opposition is using this slogan to say if they come with such huge majority, the BJP will change the constitution. Given that pre-poll surveys reveal high levels of economic anxiety, Mr. Verma speculates that the opposition’s campaign to empower poor and lower castes might have gained some support. ” This might have prompted Mr. Modi to confront this narrative head-on and give it a Hindu-Muslim twist.”

: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi addresses the Samajik Nyay Sammelan at Jawahar Bhavan, on April 24, 2024 in New Delhi, India.

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Is Mr Modi’s divisive rhetoric a sign of desperation?

Not really, says Mr Vaishnav. It serves as a catalyst for his mobilization and, in my opinion, to compensate for his first few performances.

” Desperation suggests that the BJP is losing,” which I do n’t think is true. Without the BJP’s ability to keep its seats from 2019 and occupy new areas, it will be difficult to achieve the new 400-seat target.

In recent interviews with news outlets, Mr. Modi has sung a different song despite his rhetoric on the stump.

” I am not anti- Islam, nor am I anti- Muslim, “he told Times Now.

He said his government’s welfare benefits extended to all, irrespective of their community or religion, adding that” social justice and secularism is a guarantee from Modi”.

Mr. Modi criticized the opposition for using Muslims as political pawns, suggesting that the community should consider its own situation. Muslims should examine the community’s perception of shortcomings. He claimed that the Muslim world was changing without exception. When I go to the Gulf countries, India and I get so much respect. Here there’s opposition, “he said.

Finding the complexity of Indian election victories is always challenging. Gilles Verniers, a political scientist, believes they are rarely fought and won based on past accomplishments.

Instead, voters make their decisions based on what candidates and parties have to offer for the future. After building its past campaigns on welfare, security and nationalism, and having scored on these matters, the BJP does not have a lot of new ideas to offer to voters, hence the exacerbation of ethnic and religious nationalism, “he says.

Mr Modi and his party will disagree. Regardless of which party has the best chance of winning or losing, one thing is clear: this election has not yet manifested itself as a sweeping wave favoring any side. In politics,” says political analyst Pratap Bhanu Mehta”, never underestimate the power of boredom”. That could account for what many say is the BJP’s” nervousness”.

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