On Sunday evening, social media platform X became flooded with a video clip of Modi, at an election rally in western Rajasthan, calling Muslims “infiltrators” and “those who have more children”.

“When they [the opposition Congress party] were in power, they said Muslims have first right over resources,” Modi was filmed saying to a thunderous roar from supporters. “They will gather all your wealth and distribute it among those who have more children. They will distribute it among infiltrators.”

The clip caused an uproar on social media, with Modi accused of resorting to “communal hatred” by opponents, who claimed the first phase of the polls had not gone in the BJP’s favour – even though no statistics are yet available to confirm if this is true.

Modi supporters carry cut-outs of India’s prime minister at a campaign rally in Rajasthan earlier this month. Modi’s anti-Muslim remarks at recent rally prompted a raft of complaints. Photo: AFP
The BJP has long invoked divisive language to speak of Muslims, referring to refugees from countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar, in particular, as infiltrators. Another common trope among party leaders is accusing Muslim men of taking Hindu wives to convert them, a conspiracy theory labelled “Love Jihad”.

Modi’s remarks at Sunday’s rally prompted a raft of complaints from Indian journalists, academics, lawyers and political experts, who urged the country’s Election Commission to take immediate action.

The commission’s own guidelines, known as the Model Code of Conduct, call on political parties and candidates to refrain from using language or engaging in activities “which may aggravate existing differences, or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic”.

Renowned Indian journalist and author Ravish Kumar called Modi’s remarks “shameful” and said many people were now “searching for the Election Commission” to act.

“For how long have votes been being sought in the name of temple and Ram?” he asked in Hindi on X, referring to a controversial temple in Ayodhya dedicated to the Hindu god Ram that was built on the site of a destroyed mosque.

06:57

Inauguration of India’s Ayodhya temple tipped to whip up Hindu nationalism ahead of elections

Inauguration of India’s Ayodhya temple tipped to whip up Hindu nationalism ahead of elections

On Monday evening, a Congress delegation submitted 16 complaints against the BJP, and other actors including Modi, to Election Commission officials alleging violations of the Model Code of Conduct, judgments made by India’s Supreme Court and The Representation of the People Act (1951), which governs how elections are carried out.

Dr Renu Poonia, an official with the government’s Electronic Media Monitoring Centre in Rajasthan, earlier told This Week in Asia that it had also received complaints about Modi’s speech and “due process into the matter has been initiated”.

An online petition calling for the Election Commission to take action against Modi “for his acts of violation of the Model Code of Conduct” was launched on Monday by Subhashini Ali, a former member of parliament and high-ranking official in the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

When approached, the Election Commission declined to comment on the matter.

A Muslim man shows his inked finger after casting his ballot in the first phase of India’s general election at a polling station in Kairana, India’s Uttar Pradesh state, on Friday. Photo: AFP

‘Open and brazen’ hatred

Despite the controversy caused, political theorist Gudavarthy predicted that Modi’s remarks at Sunday’s rally would do little to move the needle in the BJP’s favour.

“Muslim bashing has stopped helping them as it is not adding any new votes or new sections [of society],” Gudavarthy told This Week in Asia, adding that the BJP was merely consolidating its existing voter base with such remarks.

The PM is a habitual offender, as are other BJP leaders … [Yet] no action has been taken against any of them, and they are acting with impunity

Apoorvanand, Indian academic and political commentator

Apoorvanand, a political commentator and professor at Delhi University who only goes by one name, called Modi a “habitual offender” for invoking communal hatred against Muslims.

“He has been using anti-Muslim tropes since the beginning of the campaign, it is only that the media had been playing it down until now,” Apoorvanand said, pointing to past remarks Modi made in Uttar Pradesh about Muslims supposedly forcing Hindus to sell their houses, or his claim earlier this month that Congress’ election manifesto carried pro-Muslim overtones with “every page reeking of breaking India into pieces”.

“This time it was open and brazen, that is why it was very revolting to people,” he said, pointing out that the Election Commission had taken action against other parties for their words and actions, such as the ultranationalist Shiv Sena, but was failing to do so when it came to the BJP.

“The PM is a habitual offender, as are other BJP leaders,” Apoorvanand said. “[Yet] no action has been taken against any of them, and they are acting with impunity.”

Rahul Gandhi’s Unite India march: a win for Congress in Modi’s ‘bazaar of hate’?

Opposition figure Rahul Gandhi, a former Congress president and still a leading light within the party, accused Modi of sowing the seeds of hatred to boost support for the BJP after he said it had underwhelmed at the polls.

“After the disappointment in the first phase of voting, the level of Narendra Modi’s lies has fallen so much that out of fear, he now wants to divert the attention of the public from the issues,” Gandhi wrote on social media.

“The country will now vote on its issues, vote for employment, family, and future. India will not go astray.”