Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi Accused of Hate Speech for Calling Muslims ‘Infiltrators’

Narendra Modi, India's prime minister, addresses the media at the Parliament House in
Prakash Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images

India’s main opposition party, the Indian National Congress (INC), or simply “Congress,” accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of violating election laws on Monday by referring to Indian Muslims as “infiltrators” in a campaign speech.

India is in the middle of a massive election for the lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha. The election began on Friday and is scheduled to last for six weeks. Modi and his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are heavily favored to win the election.

During a campaign speech in the state of Rajasthan on Sunday, Modi decided to criticize a remark that his predecessor, Manmohan Singh of the Congress party, made. Singh was prime minister from 2004 to 2014.

Singh gave a speech in 2006 in which he said his government should “devise innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the Muslim minority, are empowered to share equitably in the fruits of development.”

“They must have the first claim on our resources,” Singh said in his 2006 remarks, referring to minorities in general, although his critics said he was speaking particularly of Muslims.

Indian then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaks during a press conference in Srinagar, India, on May 25, 2006. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)

That line was highly controversial at the time, to the point where Singh’s office offered a “clarification” a few days later that accused critics of taking Singh “out of context” to make “deliberate and mischievous” misinterpretations of his comments.

The clarification said Singh was really calling for all of his top economic and social priorities to have “first claim on our resources,” not just affirmative action or welfare for Muslims or other disadvantaged minorities.

Modi and his party never accepted that clarification, and, in his controversial speech on Sunday, Modi hewed to the most negative interpretation of Singh’s 18-year-old remarks. He claimed Congress still thinks the way Singh allegedly did and plans to loot Indian taxpayers to finance wealth redistribution schemes if it gains power in the current election.

“What Congress has said in its manifesto is serious. It has said that if the Congress forms the government, everyone’s property will be surveyed; it will calculate gold belonging to mothers and sisters and then redistribute it. They won’t even spare your mangalsutra,” Modi told his audience in Rajasthan. A mangalsutra is a necklace given to Indian brides by their new husbands on their wedding day.

Mangalsutra necklaces are displayed at the upscale Mall of Travancore in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India. (Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto via Getty Images)

“Do you accept this? Does the government have a right to seize your property? Gold is not for show off; it is linked to women’s self-respect. Her mangalsutra is linked to her dreams. You want to snatch it?” Modi asked.

Referencing Singh’s 2006 speech, Modi continued:

Earlier, when their government was in power, they had said that Muslims have the first right on the country’s assets. This means to whom will this property be distributed? It will be distributed among those who have more children. It will be distributed to the infiltrators. Should your hard-earned money go to the infiltrators? Do you approve of this?

Modi was riffing on the Congress party’s manifesto, which carefully avoids endorsing the kind of outright wealth confiscation and redistribution he accused the party of plotting, but it does promise to “address the growing inequality of wealth and income through suitable changes in policies” and “strengthen the agenda for affirmative action.”

Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi, on the other hand, did seemingly endorse wealth redistribution in a speech in early April. He pledged that if his party gains power, it will “take up the historic assignment to distribute the wealth of India, jobs and other welfare schemes” to various castes and groups “based on their population.”

Modi capped off his fiery speech by saying Congress was “in the grip of urban Naxals.”

Naxals are Maoist Communists who have been waging a guerrilla war against the Indian government for decades. Indian police killed 29 of them in a raid on one of their remote camps on April 16, an operation that became a political hot potato after a member of the Congress party referred to the slain Maoists as “martyrs.”

In this April 13, 2007, photo, Maoist rebels, or Naxalites, officially the Communist Party of India (Maoist), exercise at a temporary base in the Abujh Marh forests in the central Indian state of Chattisgarh. (AP Photo/Mustafa Quraishi, File)

Congress has accused Modi and the BJP of exploiting the anti-Naxal raid for political gain and unfairly linking their party to the Maoists, so the prime minister was very deliberately tweaking them by working the Naxals into his speech. 

Modi’s speech prompted intense outrage from Congress, which, once again, sought to clarify what Singh said in 2006 and accused Modi of dividing Indian society in a desperate bid to get more votes.

“Not only the country but the whole world also knows Prime Minister Narendra Modi lies, the way how he spread lies about the Congress’s ‘Nyay Patra’ and former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh is an example of dirty politics,” said Akhilesh Yadav, a member of the INDIA opposition coalition. 

Congress party president Mallikarjun Kharge accused Modi of committing “hate speech” and dangerously stoking anti-Muslim fears.

“In the history of India, no prime minister has lowered the dignity of his post as much as Modi has,” said Kharge.

On Monday, Congress filed a complaint against Modi with India’s election commission, accusing him of violating election laws by urging people to vote based on “religion,” “community,” or “religious symbols.”

Congress’s complaint accused Modi and the BJP of repeatedly using religion in its election campaign with impunity despite their “blatant violations of electoral laws.” The election commission refused to comment on the status of the complaint when reporters asked.

BJP officials responded that Modi was being taken out of context, as he was criticizing frauds and illegal aliens when he spoke of “infiltrators,” not all Muslims. The BJP accused Congress of coddling illegals and said Modi was honestly echoing the sentiments of the frustrated Indian majority.

Modi’s party also said his policies have brought prosperity to all Indians, while Congress would lead India back into poverty and social division with its schemes.

Modi himself doubled down after the uproar, repeating his line about Congress wanting to steal wedding necklaces at subsequent rallies and dismissively referring to Rahul Gandhi as a spoiled “prince.”


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