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Modi plays ‘Muslim card’ to woo Hindus in Indian polls

A British newspaper's report on the Indian govt ordering killings in Pakistan adds to PM’s macho image
Women supporters carrying cutouts of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attend an election campaign rally in Pushkar on April 6, ahead of the country's upcoming general election.

Women supporters carrying cutouts of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attend an election campaign rally in Pushkar on April 6, ahead of the country's upcoming general election. (Photo: AFP)

Published: April 10, 2024 11:50 AM GMT
Updated: April 10, 2024 12:39 PM GMT

The run-up to general elections in India often leads to vitriolic attacks on political opponents and religious minorities, particularly Muslims, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi knows the art well.

The main opposition Congress party released its election manifesto on April 5 promising a slew of welfare schemes for minorities.

“We will ensure that the minorities receive their fair share of opportunities in education, healthcare, public employment, public works contracts, skills development, sports and cultural activities without discrimination,” it stated.

The economic empowerment of minorities is a necessary step for India to realize its full potential, the Congress manifesto added.

Modi responded with a typical jab: “The same thinking is reflected in the Congress manifesto as was present in the Muslim League at the time of independence,” he said.

The All-India Muslim League was led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, who is considered the chief architect of India’s partition in 1947.

The Congress manifesto may have sought to appease minorities, including Muslims and Christians, with an eye on their votes, but to draw a parallel with the Muslim League could be stretching it too far.

But Modi knows what he’s doing — bringing back the Muslim factor into public discourse and feeding on the strong “us and them” sentiment among a major chunk of Hindu voters.

“This is a strategic ploy played out by Modi,” says West Bengal-based political analyst Ramakanto Shanyal. “Pakistan remains India’s adversary... A large section of Hindus still grudges the partition of their country.”

Modi has timed the “Pakistan-plus-Muslim card” well, employing it against the main opposition. This is bound to scare Hindu voters away from the Congress and the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) it is leading.

But Modi’s pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is heading the National Democratic Alliance, is widely forecast to win a third term in 2024. It doesn’t need to play the tried and tested Hindu versus Muslim card anymore.

Modi himself has coined the slogan “Ab ki baar, 400 paar,” confident of winning 400 plus of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha or lower house of parliament.

The religious polarisation will only help the BJP gain more seats. Muslims make up about 14 percent of the nation’s 1.4 billion people, about 80 percent of them are Hindus.

The Congress may have already “antagonized” many Hindus by staying away from the consecration of the Ram temple in the holy town of Ayodhya on Jan. 22, touted by the BJP as the first step towards a "Hindu renaissance."

Its manifesto is not likely to appease all Muslims who lament being “neglected” by the ruling dispensation.

Take, for instance, the case of Umar Khalid, a student activist who remains behind bars as one of the accused in the violent protests in Delhi against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in 2020. The contentious legislation seeks to pave the way for granting citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan and hence is perceived as anti-Muslim.

“No political party including the Congress is raising these issues,” says Naushad Khan, a Muslim trader in East Delhi. “The silence has only galvanized the BJP and hardline Hindus against Muslims.”

As if this wasn’t enough, London-based The Guardian carried a report alleging Indian authorities have ordered the killings of at least 20 Pakistanis “inside Pakistan” since 2020. It follows Canada’s accusation of Delhi's role in the murders of dissidents on its soil.

Neither Modi nor Federal Defence Minister Rajnath Singh appeared perplexed or on the back foot due to such charges.

“Today’s India goes inside enemy territory to strike,” Modi claimed while Singh said there is nothing wrong in eliminating terrorists hiding in Pakistan. “We will enter there and kill them,” he added.

Such allegations only add to Modi’s macho image among a majority of Indian voters who, like their rulers, believe Pakistan serves as a haven for Islamic terrorists.

A key BJP leader in Delhi told UCA News that The Guardian’s report only helps to nail Islamabad’s lies that it never helped terror elements over the decades.

The leader said Modi is now “unstoppable” unlike his counterparts across the globe. He will not stop until 2047, the year India celebrates the centenary of its independence.

“He will be 97 by then and would have ensured a proud Hindu nation that was wronged by radical Muslims during the partition era,” he added.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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