PI Briefing | No. 20 | Naked Hindu Supremacism

As India’s general election moves towards conclusion, the BJP’s Islamophobic rhetoric ratchets up.
In the Progressive International's 20th Briefing of 2024, we bring you the latest from India’s general election, where hate-filled campaign rhetoric is out of control. If you would like to receive our Briefing in your inbox, you can sign up using the form at the bottom of this page.

India is four weeks into its six-week-long general election. Nearly 70 per cent of the country’s 543 constituencies have now voted. The results for all seats are due to be declared on 4 June.

Thus far, it has been the ugliest election since independence; the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) overt Hindu supremacism has demonised and disenfranchised India’s 170 million Muslim citizens. The BJP has spent recent years repressing critical media and the political opposition to advance a fundamentally anti-democratic and exclusionary project.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set the tone, referring to the Indian Muslim population as “infiltrators” who have “lots of children”, and claimed they gobble up the country's resources and welfare entitlements. In another speech, he accused the political opposition of encouraging and engaging in “vote jihad.” BJP leaders and social media accounts have been openly inciting hatred against religious minorities in India.

On Wednesday, Yogi Adityanath, the BJP Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state with over 240 million inhabitants, told Muslims to “go to Pakistan and beg there, don’t burden India.” Such rhetoric is not only dangerous and divisive in a country with a history of inter-religious violence, but also against the law.

The Representation of the People Act prohibits candidates from appealing to voters “on the ground of [...] religion”, an act that can disqualify candidates from running for six years. That law also prescribes a three-year jail term for any candidate who “promotes … on grounds of religion .. feelings of enmity or hatred.” However, the Election Commission of India has not taken a single punitive action against the BJP or its leaders.

Taking a cue from Modi’s speeches, the police in Uttar Pradesh have prevented Muslims from voting in the Sambhal constituency. Muslims were beaten, abused, and sent back, with their election identity cards either confiscated or torn up by the police.

In at least three parliamentary seats, candidates from other parties and independents withdrew from the contest, leaving them uncontested. In the constituency where Home Minister Amit Shah is running, 16 candidates have withdrawn. Some candidates alleged that their decision was made under duress following “pressure” from the BJP. “It is possible that I will be killed,” one candidate who has withdrawn his candidature said in a video, “I appeal to my countrymen: save this nation; it is in danger.”

Shah has campaigned for his party’s reelection with the crudest possible Islamophobia. His speeches are peppered with references to Muslims as “infiltrators”, suggesting a vote for the opposition is a “vote for Jihad”.

This is not rogue rhetoric but the BJP’s core script. Just this week, the BJP Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, Pushkar Singh Dhami, claimed that the opposition party “Congress will implement sharia law in the country and will give privileges to Muslims. They will take away half of the wealth of Hindus and distribute it amongst Muslims.” The Indian National Congress has no such policy.

Despite Modi deploying Islamophobia as a campaigning and government strategy, he is still feted by leaders around the world. He has been honoured by US President Joe Biden with a state banquet and by French President Emmanuel Macron as guest of honour at Bastille Day.

But in India, progressive forces are struggling to preserve India’s secular democracy. An alliance of social movements from across the country have called on the Election Commissioners to "grow a spine or resign", urging the body to combat hate speech and prevent electoral manipulation.

The Progressive International’s Observatory continues to be on the ground and will keep you up to date with the election’s developments.

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