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Modi's speeches spark accusations of 'hate speech' amid division in India

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of making Islamophobic comments during an election rally on Sunday, sparking widespread anger from prominent Muslims and opposition members.

The world's most populous nation is in the midst of a mammoth, weeks-long election in which Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is expected to secure a rare third consecutive term.

Speaking in front of a large crowd in the western state of Rajasthan, Modi said that if the country's main opposition, the Indian National Congress, wins the election, the country's wealth would be distributed between “insiders” and “those who have the most children.” in apparent reference to the Muslim community.

“When they (Congress) were in power, they said Muslims have rights to resources first. They will gather all their wealth and distribute it among those who have the most children. They will distribute it among the infiltrators,” Modi said to thunderous roars from the audience.

“Do you think your hard-earned money should be given to the undercover? Would you accept that?” Modi said.

Those remarks were seized on by the opposition, which has long accused Modi and the BJP of using divisive rhetoric to boost the increasingly popular brand of Hindu nationalism.

Opposition members have asked the Election Commission of India (ECI) to investigate whether Modi's comments violate the body's code of conduct.

The code states that politicians should not appeal to voters on the basis of “class” and “communal sentiments.” Activities that “may aggravate differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension” between communities and religions are also not permitted.

A CNN has reached out to ECI for comment.

Modi has received widespread backlash from members of the Muslim community for his comments at a time when many fear a third BJP term will deepen the communal fissures already running across the country.

“This is not a subliminal message, this is targeted, direct and blatant hate speech against a community,” wrote prominent Muslim journalist Rana Ayyub on X.

Muslim MP and president of All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen, Asaduddin Owaisi, said, “Modi today called Muslims infiltrators and people with many children. From 2002 until today, Modi’s only guarantee has been to abuse Muslims and get votes.”

Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge described Modi's comments as “hate speech” and “a well-thought-out ploy to divert attention.”

“Today, the prime minister did what he learned from the values ​​of the Sangh,” referring to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing Hindu paramilitary organization, of which Modi was once a youth member and of which the BJP is an affiliate. . “In the history of India, no prime minister has reduced the dignity of his office as much as Modi.”

Modi came to power in 2014 on a promise of development and anti-corruption, rising in popularity during his tenure and being re-elected five years later – the second time on the more openly nationalist Hindu ticket.

Over the past decade, Modi and his BJP have been accused of driving religious polarization with their Hindu nationalist policies, giving rise to a wave of Islamophobia and deadly communal clashes in the world's largest secular democracy.

India's Muslim minority is huge – around 230 million people – and Muslims have lived in what is now modern India for centuries.

But a false conspiracy, expressed by some Hindu nationalists, accuses Muslims of being somehow outsiders, and spreads a false narrative that they are deliberately displacing the country's Hindu population by having large families.

The BJP has repeatedly said it does not discriminate on the basis of religion and treats all citizens equally.

But polls, reports and rights groups say divisions have widened in the country of 1.4 billion people.

Anti-Muslim speech has risen sharply, showed a recent report by Washington-based research group India Hate Lab, which documented 668 such cases in 2023. Of that number, 75% occurred in states ruled by the BJP, according to the report.

India prohibits hate speech under several sections of its penal code, including a section that criminalizes “deliberate and malicious acts” intended to insult religious beliefs, but rights groups say there is a lack of immediate and adequate action against those alleged perpetrators of such acts, giving tacit support to right-wing extremists.

Source: CNN Brasil

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