NEW DELHI — India’s main opposition party is accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of hate speech after he called Muslims “infiltrators” and used some of his most incendiary rhetoric to date about the minority faith in an election rally days after the country began its weekslong general election.

At the rally on Sunday in the western state of Rajasthan, Modi said that when the Congress party was in government, “they said Muslims have the first right over the country’s resources.” If it returns to power, the party “will gather all your wealth and distribute it among those who have more children,” he said as the crowd applauded.

“They will distribute it among infiltrators,” he continued, saying, “Do you think your hard-earned money should be given to infiltrators?”

Abhishek Manu Singhvi, a spokesperson for Congress, called the prime minister’s remarks “deeply, deeply objectionable” and said the party on Monday had sought action from the Election Commission of India, which oversees the six-week voting period, which began Friday.

The remarks drew fierce criticism for peddling anti-Muslim tropes, and for breaking election rules that bar candidates from engaging in any activity that aggravates religious tensions. The Election Commission of India’s model code of conduct forbids candidates to “appeal to caste or communal feelings” to secure votes.

Asaduddin Owaidi, a Muslim lawmaker and president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen party, said on Sunday: “Modi today called Muslims infiltrators and people with many children. Since 2002 till this day, the only Modi guarantee has been to abuse Muslims and get votes.”

Critics of Modi, an avowed Hindu nationalist, say India’s tradition of diversity and secularism has come under attack since his party won power in 2014 and returned for a second term in 2019. They accuse Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party of fostering religious intolerance and sometimes even violence. The party denies the accusation and says its policies benefit all Indians.

But rights groups say that attacks against minorities have become more brazen under Modi. Scores of Muslims have been lynched by Hindu mobs over allegations of eating beef or smuggling cows, an animal considered holy to Hindus. Muslim businesses have been boycotted, their homes and businesses have been bulldozed and places of worship set on fire. Some open calls have been made for their genocide

Modi’s remarks on Sunday were based on a 2006 statement by then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of the Congress party. Singh said that India’s lower castes, tribes, women and, “in particular the Muslim minority” were empowered to share in the country’s development equally. 

“They must have the first claim on resources,” Singh had said. A day later, his office clarified that Singh was referring to all of the disadvantaged groups.

Modi and his party are expected to win the election, according to most surveys. The results come out on June 4. 

The Congress party’s president, Mallikarjun Kharge, described Modi’s comments as “hate speech.” “In the history of India, no prime minister has lowered the dignity of his post as much as Modi has,” Kharge wrote on social media platform X.

In its petition to the election commission, the party said that Modi and the BJP have repeatedly used religion, religious symbols and sentiments in their election campaign with impunity. “These actions have been further bolstered by the commission’s inaction in penalizing the prime minister and the BJP for their blatant violations of electoral laws,” it said. 

The commission’s code of conduct is not legally binding on its own, but it can issue notices and suspend campaigners for a certain amount of time over violations.

“We decline comment,” a spokesperson for the commission told the Press Trust of India news agency on Monday. 

In his speech, Modi also referred to a Hindu nationalist myth that Muslims were overtaking the Hindu population by having more children. Hindus make up 80% of India’s 1.4 billion population, while the country’s 200 million Muslims make up 14%. Official data shows that fertility rates among Muslims have dropped the fastest among religious groups in recent decades, from 4.4 in 1992-93 to 2.3 between 2019-21, just a bit higher than Hindus at 1.94.

Modi’s BJP has previously referred to Muslims as infiltrators and cast them as illegal migrants who crossed into India from Bangladesh and Pakistan. Several states run by the BJP have also made laws that restrict interfaith marriage, citing the myth of “love jihad,” an unproven conspiracy theory used by Hindu hard-line groups to accuse Muslim men of converting Hindu women by marriage.

Through it all, Modi has maintained a conspicuous silence, which critics say has emboldened some of his most extreme supporters and enabled more hate speech against Muslims.

Source: | This article originally belongs to Nbcnews.com

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