Tuesday 21st May 2024
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India

Modi Likely to be Re-Elected Despite Encouraging Islamophobia

As the Indian General Elections draw closer, it appears likely that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will win his third consecutive term.
According to Pew, roughly 80 percent of Indians surveyed have a favorable view of the prime minister, with 55 percent of those people holding a very favorable view of him. This high approval rating is noted as being unusual for Democratic leaders who serve consecutive terms.
On direct comparison of Maldives and India, a stark contrast can be seen. Maldives has not elected a leader for second term since the dictatorship of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom came to an end in 2008, following the country’s first democratic elections.
An element that could be argued to be the most distinct difference between the two nations is the contrast in religious demographics.
Maldives is a 100 percent Muslim country, while India has traditionally been a secular state with citizens practicing a large variety of faiths. Maldivians are less likely to be united by religion, as every potential leader will leverage the national religion to reach voters. In India, however, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been able to harness the power of Hindu nationalism, which is what has gained Modi such strong support.
According to the US Department of State 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom, India’s population has four largest religious groups are Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs. Hindus make up 72.4 percent of the total population, with Muslims making up 14 percent of the population, and Christians and Sikhs making up less than 7 percent of the total population combined.
Through the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) efforts in spreading Hindu nationalist ideology, and the rise of that rhetoric in BJP dialogue, Modi has been able to strike a chord with the Hindu majority of the country. Through demonizing Islam and stoking the cultural and religious tensions between the two groups, support for Hindu nationalism has grown.
This has been proven by a research group based in Washington, D.C., USA, called ‘India Hate Lab,’ who released a report regarding hate speech events in India in 2023.
The report, released on the 25th of February, 2024, found that hate speech against Muslims has been on the rise in India. From the start of 2023, there were 668 recorded instances of hate speech events targeted towards Muslims. The first half of the year saw 255 hate speech events, while the second half saw 413 hate speech events. This is an increase of 62 percent.
This report signals that a win for Indian Prime Minister Modi and his BJP would fuel further hate against the minority groups in India. Modi is known for using ‘Hindutva’ language, and promoting the ideology that India should be for Hindus.
This is evidenced through the report, as it highlights how 75 percent, or 498, of all hate speech events took place in BJP-ruled areas. Moreover, 36 percent, or 239, of all events called for violence against the Muslim minority.
The former BJP leader Subramanian Swamy’s sentiments about an Indian invasion of Maldives will still be fresh in the memories of most Maldivians. It is important to note that the report found that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad-Bajrang Dal, which is affiliated with the RSS, is responsible for 32 percent, or 216, of all hate speech events. This group was the largest organizer of hate speech events against Muslims. Subramanian Swamy has been alleged to be affiliated with the RSS for a long time, and defended the group in 2022 at the ThinkEdu Conclave, saying the RSS is a “cultural organization that wants to unify India.” Groups that fall under the broader RSS family were responsible for 46 percent, or 307, of all hate speech events.
The report also found that 63 percent, or 420, of events had references to conspiracy theories surrounding jihad. It appears that the BJP and Hindutva leaders are fueling their followers by feeding them misinformation about Islam.
Additionally, 25 percent, or 169, instances of hate speech called for the targeting of Muslim places of worship. This falls in line with actions that have been seen recently, with efforts to impede Muslim worship having been carried out with impunity.
A court in India allowed Hindus to worship inside the Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. An Indian court granted the permission following a complaint filed by Hindus claiming that the area where the mosque is located was once the site of a Hindu temple.

More severe than this was the instance of local authorities of Haldwani town, in northern India, bulldozing a mosque and madrasa earlier this month. The justification for this was that the buildings had been erected without permission, however residents claimed that the two structures had stood for nearly twenty years. As a result of this, Muslims in the town took to the street to protest, with the police deployed to deal with the protest. It was reported that some protestors had set fire to vehicles and thrown rocks at police. The police stated that this was the reason for them to deploy tear gas and fire live ammunition into the crowd. This resulted in 5 deaths and 20 people being injured.

Wider instances of harassment and antagonization towards the Muslim minority have occurred in the last year, aside from the attacks on places of worship. Last month, on the 21st of January, a group of Hindu nationalists with saffron flags had been stopped by a group of Muslim locals in Mumbai. Two days later, state authorities began demolishing 15 shops, including those of street vendors, in a predominantly Muslim area of Mumbai. No notices of eviction were issued before the demolition took place, according to local activists.

In January last year, there were wide spread protests after the government demolished 4,000 homes belonging to Muslims in Haldwani, claiming that those homes had encroached on state railway land. Following this, according to reports from Amnesty International, Indian authorities carried out the systematic destruction of at least 128 Muslim owned properties, which resulted in homelessness or loss of income for over 617 people.

With these events in mind, and the discovery of how widespread instances of hate speech are, a shadow is cast over the upcoming Indian general elections. Should the BJP hold on to power in the next election, cases of hate speech and the antagonization of minorities could worsen as it has done since Modi took power in 2014.

Thus, the effects of Modi’s Hindutva rhetoric are on clear display. Despite the negative effects of the rise of Hindu nationalism, it appears unlikely that Modi will be unseated in the upcoming elections as he has developed a cult like following among Hindu Indians.