‘Hate thy neighbour’ as an election slogan in Modi’s India

‘Hate thy neighbour’ as an election slogan in Modi’s India Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is pictured March 12, 2021. Photo: OSV News/Amit Dave, Reuters
Letter from India
John Dayal

India’s Narendra Modi seems to have decided that he can win a third five-year term as prime minister only through campaign rhetoric targeting the Muslim religious minority as a threat not just to national security, but to the 80% Hindu majority among the country’s 1.40 billion people.

Muslims, in the census last held in 2011, account for just under 15%, with Christians at a little over 2.30%.

The Election Commission of India, its three members handpicked by Modi from among the pool of his former officials in Gujarat, where he was chief minister for 14 years, and in New Delhi since he became prime minister in 2014, has been deaf to loud protests by civil society which is monitoring the elections carefully.

On May 11, civil society groups protested against the election commission for its inaction on violations of the model code of conduct by Modi, saying the officials should “grow a spine or resign”.


Former judges, retired election officials, bureaucrats, military officers, professors, artists and editors, are apprehensive that the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) may take extreme measures in the general elections now underway to blunt popular anger against Modi’s policies that have impacted employment, agriculture, education and social harmony.

Religion is seen as the super weapon in this no-hold-barred election – a “Brahmastra”, a divine force. Modi styles himself as the “Hindu Hriday Samrat”, or “he who rules the hearts of the Hindus”.

He sought to appease his ‘vote bank’ by rushing through the consecration of a still-incomplete Ram temple being built on the ruins of the 500-year-old Babri mosque in Ayodhya which was demolished by rapturous mobs in 1992. It did not work.

In a wink, he fell back on rousing anti-Islam passions, a tried and proven tactic that has often worked for right-wing politicians since the Indian subcontinent’s bloodstained partition in 1947.

Modi had successfully used targeted hate against Muslims in retaining power in Gujarat, and then as the engine of his electoral campaigns to become prime minister in the general elections of 2014 and 2019.

“Modi and his long-term friend and Home Minister Amit Shah seem to have shocked even some of their cabinet colleagues and allies with their vitriolic lampooning of Muslims”

In the general elections, he had deftly padded them with promises of “Acche Din” or “better days”, and a return to the golden age of Hindu mythology.

But the gloves are off this time. Modi and his long-term friend and Home Minister Amit Shah seem to have shocked even some of their cabinet colleagues and allies with their vitriolic lampooning of Muslims.

The opposition parties, who are part of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), are accused of harbouring and nurturing people successively described as termites, traitors, saboteurs, infiltrators, seducers of Hindu women in alleged ‘love jihad’, and in final imagery, creatures out to displace Hindus from their homeland.

The last was through a vicious short animated film. It shows the Muslim as a Cuckoo bird, the South Asian Cuculidae. The bird is well known for its sharp song in the summer months.

But, alas, it is better known for laying its eggs in the nests of crows and much smaller songbirds. The chick hatches, grows big very fast, expels and kills its weaker nest mates, till, finally, it alone survives.

This was a short film shown as election advertising on paid and unpaid social media. The imagery will not be lost on a four-year-old child. It was not lost on the electorate.

It took a long and bitter fight by civil society, first with the lethargic election commission, and in courts of law, before the animated film was proscribed. No one has been punished so far.


India, like its neighbor Pakistan, has perhaps the world’s most stringent law against blasphemy and targeting of religious communities. Blasphemy not just against the God of Abraham, but against any god, of the millions in the Hindu pantheon, for instance.

No one calls them anti-blasphemy laws anymore, and many have forgotten they are remnants of the penal code enforced by the colonial British Raj to maintain a semblance of law and order amidst India’s myriad religions, caste, and groups competing for scarce resources and fiercely guarding ‘purity’ lines.

The United Kingdom does not have this on its statutes anymore. Pakistan uses it, not unsparingly, to keep in check its tiny Christian population and its various Islamic sects such as the Shias, the Sufis, and the Ahmedias.

“Election officials have been quick to act against opposition candidates if they fall foul of these regulations”

Several sections of the Indian penal code call for action for hurting religious feelings or doing anything that can cause friction or violence between communities, including insulting religions and religious communities. These precautions have been carried over to the laws and rules governing elections and are an intrinsic part of the model code of conduct applicable to political parties and candidates.

As expected by a cynical civil society and political activists, election officials have been quick to act against opposition candidates if they fall foul of these regulations.

Samajwadi (socialist) Party leader Maria Alam Khan at a public rally in Uttar Pradesh called upon her electorate to participate in a “vote jihad,” saying that voting as a religious duty was necessary to defeat the ruling party. Within hours, the election commission set up a “flying squad”, ordering the police to take action.


The BJP and its leaders seem to be immune to the law. With five phases of the seven rounds over in this general election, the BJP has repeatedly used religious tropes in its poll pitch and incited communal feelings. Its official social media handles have shared such content and its leaders have openly made anti-Muslim remarks.

The award-winning portal, Alt News, has exposed how the ruling party used the Hindu god Ram to stoke religious sentiments alleging that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi plans to lock up the temple gates.

Modi said at an election rally in Dhar, in central Madhya Pradesh state on May 7, “…Modi needs 400 seats so that the Congress does not put a ‘Babri lock’ on the Ayodhya Ram Temple…”

The Congress shall provide a quota based on religion in contracting, Modi claimed. “They are also planning to prefer minority communities over others in sports, they will be deciding who will be selected for the cricket team based on religion. I want to ask Congress today, if this was your intention all along why did you break apart the country into three parts in 1947? You should’ve declared the country as Pakistan back in 1947 and removed the existence of India.”

“T Raja Singh, in a recent video clip, can be seen singing from a campaign stage that strongman Modi will throw out all Pakistani mullahs”

Lesser leaders have been outright vulgar. BJP legislator from southern Telangana state, T Raja Singh, in a recent video clip, can be seen singing from a campaign stage that strongman Modi will throw out all Pakistani mullahs. Sharing the hate video, right-wing influencer Sunanda Roy praised the courage of the legislator.

BJP’s youth leader Tejaswi Surya, a sitting MP has repeatedly targeted Muslims in Karnataka and other states. He tells the women present in the audience that the INDIA bloc and Congress will make them wear burqas. He also claimed that the Congress manifesto proposed the implementation of sharia law and would give freedom to Muslims for cow slaughter.

Civil society is keenly observing the campaign towards the two final rounds. Votes cast through electronic voting machines will be counted on June 4. Results will be announced on the same day.

John Dayal writes for UCA News.