Will Modi’s anti-Pakistan, anti-Muslim rhetoric work?

Indian voters this time cannot be lured with an anti-Pakistan or anti-Muslim rhetoric

Dr Moonis Ahmar May 21, 2024
The writer is Meritorious Professor International Relations and former Dean Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Karachi. Email: amoonis@hotmail.com


As Indian elections are more than half way through and results are expected to be announced on June 4, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is upping his anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim rhetoric in order to secure more votes on religious grounds. The myth of BJP crossing 400 seats in the 543-strong Lok Sabha, the upper house of Indian parliament, is shattered as ground realities depict that the Hindu nationalist party may only grab 250 or so seats.

Indian general elections 2024 — being conducted in 28 states and 8 union territories in seven phases and featuring 960 million eligible voters — will have far-reaching regional and global implications.

Addressing an election rally in Bihar on May 13, Modi criticised opposition INDIA alliance “for acting as cowards”. He lambasted the opposition by asserting that, “the INDIA bloc seems to have leaders who are scared of Pakistan and have nightmare of its nuclear power.” He was referring to National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah who said Pakistan possessed atom bombs and was not wearing bangles. Modi’s rhetoric on Pakistan appeared as crude and irrational when he thundered that, “If Pakistan does not wear bangles, we will make the country wear these. I know they did not have food grains and now I came to know that they did not have adequate supply of bangles.”

According to a write-up in Voice of America on May 12, 2024, “Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of amplifying divisive rhetoric during the country’s election campaign by calling Muslim votes ‘Vote Jihad’ to encourage Hindus to vote for his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which is seeking a historic third term… Delhi University professor of Hindi, Apoorvanand, told VOA that, sensing a lack of enthusiasm among Hindu voters, Modi and other BJP leaders are ‘desperate to energize them by feeding them the tried and tested anti-Muslim rhetoric’. The BJP has turned this election into a war between Hindus and Muslims. His party is portraying it as the final opportunity for the Hindus to ‘save’ themselves from Muslims, by electing their ultimate savior to power — Modi.”

Modi crossed all limits of anti-Muslim rhetoric when he blamed Congress for planning to steal buffaloes and mangalsutras from Hindus to hand them over to Muslims. Without redeeming ramifications of Muslim bashing, Modi is confident that he will get more support from Hindu nationalists but tends to overlook the fact that vast majority of Indian voters now do not buy ‘Pakistan’ or ‘Muslim card’. Modi is not oblivious of the fact that BJP got 303 seats in 2019 when opposition parties were fragmented, and this time around they are united into an alliance called INDIA. Modi became so insecure from INDIA, particularly after the release of the Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, that he talked about a formula worked out by INDIA bloc that every year they will have a Prime Minister from a major party of the alliance.

Will Modi cross the 400-seat mark or half of that number? Will Indian voters subscribe to INDIA’s appeal to reject religious nationalism and save their country from sharp escalation of food prices and inflation? It is also argued that if BJP gets less than 271 seats, required to form a government, there will be a revolt against Modi in his party. Knowing that it is his last chance and incumbency factor is going against BJP, Modi is trying to use ‘Pakistan’ and ‘Muslim’ card reflecting his frustration from prevailing election mood. In 1977, the people of India had booted Congress and its Prime Minister Indira Gandhi from power as they had rejected her imposition of emergency and dictatorial mode of governance. It is the beauty of Indian democracy that instead of launching agitation against alleged rigging and removing the government by unconstitutional means, the people of India wait for five years and use the power of vote to either retain the incumbent in power or bring opposition to the helm. In 2024, Indian voters may exercise their right by releasing anger against BJP’s fascist mode of governance particularly against religions minorities.

In 2014 and 2019 election campaigns, BJP launched a tirade against Pakistan, accusing it of cross-border terrorism and launching false-flag operation in Pulwama in February 2019. In 1998 and 1999, BJP used the nuclear tests and the Kargil war to gain popular support in elections. But this time, it seems Indian voters will not come under the BJP trap and give their verdict based on ground realities reflecting the manner in which the Modi regime compromised on democracy and political pluralism.

One needs to analyse the rhetoric of ‘Pakistan’ and anti-Muslim card in 2024 general elections from two angles.

First, the formation of anti-BJP election alliance called Indian National Development Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) composed of all major political parties including Congress (I), West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s All India Trinamool Congress, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Admi Party and regional parties of the South. BJP is propagating that the leadership of INDIA lacks charisma and capability to run a country of 1.4 billion people and is united on one-point agenda to defeat Modi. Will the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) be able to grab at least 271 seats in the lower house? Banking on propaganda through print, electronic and social media, BJP is trying to prove that it has a clear edge over INDIA and will cross 400 seats. It may be a wishful thinking but it all depends on the mood of Indian voters if they reject incumbency and give the opposition alliance a chance to come to power. Unlike in 2014 and 2019, Indian voters this time cannot be lured with an anti-Pakistan or anti-Muslim rhetoric because they are concerned with economic woes, corruption and erosion of democracy. Hardly two weeks are left for the results to come and the history of 2004 may be repeated when the voters had rejected BJP’s ‘shining India’ rhetoric and brought Congress to power.

Second, BJP’s violence and persecution against religious minorities particularly Muslims is no secret and despite attempts made by the Modi regime to influence judiciary, bureaucracy, security agencies and civil society, the depth of Indian democracy is quite obvious. Transforming India as a Hindu state may attract some supporters of BJP, but the vast majority of Indian voters will not waste an opportunity to save their country from perceived fascist and dictatorial mode of governance by Modi regime for another five years. It is in the interest of Indian state and society to keep 2024 elections free, fair and transparent. Otherwise, massive damage will be done to Indian democracy.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 21st, 2024.

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