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Articles

Look who all thePM Modi echoes: Hardline extremists, spurious Youtubers, Hindutva popstars

Kunal Purohit

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For the last few years, the country has seen openly Islamophobic rhetoric and wild anti-Muslim conspiracy theories from many across the Hindu right-wing ecosystem.

They have come from different sources – from hardline Hindutva extremists in religious conclaves, WhatsApp forwards to spurious YouTube channels spouting pro-Hindutva content and Hindutva popstars who create songs and poetry aligned to Hindu nationalist priorities.

Much of it has gone unchallenged.

Over the last two weeks, that rhetoric has made a comeback through an unlikely source: the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s campaign, primarily led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election speeches.

This correspondent parsed both the BJP’s campaign material as well as Modi’s recent speeches as part of the election campaign and found striking similarities with the rhetoric that Hindutva outlets had been employing all these years – from claiming that Hindus were not able to celebrate festivals under Congress rule, to implying that Muslim ‘infiltrators’ were taking over tribal lands, Modi has employed rhetoric that bears close resemblance to the one repeatedly employed by extremist Hindutva votaries, often dismissed as “fringe” voices.

Unwittingly or not, the two-term prime minister has ended up legitimising hard-line, Islamophobic hyperbole and conspiracies that, for years, had been flowing into our social media feeds and phones.

‘Land jihad’

Across Maharashtra, all through last year, a clutch of Hindu right-wing organisations have been holding protest marches and stoking fears that Muslims had been “conspiring” to capture land across the state, calling it “land jihad”. Much of this is driven by fears and conspiracy theories – for instance, in Mumbai, the proposed construction of a burial ground for Muslims was enough for some of these groups to allege “land jihad”.

Speaking in Jharkhand’s Singhbhum on May 3, Modi hit a similar chord.

Modi said Jharkhand, under the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM)-Congress government, had seen unchecked immigration by “infiltrators”, because these parties would do “anything for their vote banks”.

Without mentioning Muslims directly, Modi stoked fears that sounded familiar to an audience used to conspiracies of “land jihad”.

“They are allowing infiltrators safe haven into Jharkhand,” he said, referring to the JMM-Congress government.

“These infiltrators are capturing the tribal brothers’ lands. In areas like Santhal Paragna, the number of tribals is going down, our daughters and sisters are not safe there.”

Modi was echoing what is a widespread conspiracy theory in Hindu right-wing circles. One of the first times this was put out was by this Dainik Jagran piece in December 2022, which, while only quoting “sources” and “those in the know”, had alleged that Muslim men were conspiring to marry Adivasi girls and then usurp their large land tracts so that they could settle other Muslims and change the demographic make-up of those tribal areas in Jharkhand. It didn’t offer any evidence of this happening.

Yet, this was then regurgitated by right-wing propaganda website OpIndia, which quoted Hindu right-wing activist Ramesh Shinde of the Hindu Janjagruti Samiti to back these claims.

These claims have now made way to NMF News, a very popular, right-leaning YouTube channel which, in March this year, published a video with the same claims. NMF News has over 18.4 million subscribers. Reporter Pankaj Prasoon, the bureau chief of NMF News in Jharkhand, also claimed that Muslims have effected a demographic change in tribal areas, where the Adivasi population which was 35% in 2011 and had gone to 10-11% in 2022, whereas Muslims, who were only 10-11% have now climbed up to 35%. Last month, when this correspondent contacted Prasoon to check his sources for the data, since the country had not seen any Census since 2011, Prasoon said he did not have any official sources for the data but pointed to a speech made by BJP MP Nishikant Dubey. Dubey had, in December last year, blamed “illegal Bangladeshi immigrants” for causing such a demographic change in Jharkhand, without offering any evidence for the claim

Such unbacked claims have now been validated by the prime minister’s speech.

‘Demographic coup’

Hindutva activists aside, the BJP and Modi’s rhetoric also closely mirrors the rhetoric that hardline Hindutva popstars have been employing in their songs and poetry, to fan fear and anger against Muslims, among Hindus.

For instance, Kavi Singh, a Rohtak-based singer who specialises in songs that push the Hindutva line (from a song on ‘love jihad’ where she calls Muslims ‘deshdrohi (traitors)’ and ‘makkaar (deceitful)’ to a song celebrating the abrogation of Article 370), had brought a song called ‘Sacche Hindustani’, referring to the nationwide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

The song, in essence, called Muslims ‘infiltrators’, and insists that they were conspiring to produce more and more children to corner the country’s resources.

‘10-10 bache paida karte jo desh ko gareeb banate hai,
Agar suvidha milein na unko, desh ko bura batate hai.
Jo tukde karna chahte desh ke, gandi wahi pedaish hai
Inko sabak sikhao jalti, sab ki yehi farmaish hai.

(Those who produce 10-odd children and drain the country,
If they can’t raise them well, they call the country names.
Those wretched, who want to tear the country apart,
Teach them a lesson, that’s all we want.)

Kuch logo ki toh saazish hai, hum bache khub banayenge
Jaise sankhya hui humse zyaada, fir apni baat banayenge.

(Some people are conspiring,
That we will produce many children.
When their numbers go past ours,
They will make us dance to their tune.)

In the last few weeks, the gulf between Singh and Modi’s rhetoric has narrowed down.

Last month, speaking in Rajasthan, Modi evoked the same trope that Singh had – that Muslims, who were producing more and more babies, were going to corner resources that should have been used to serve Hindus.

“When they (the Congress) were in power, they said Muslims have first right over resources,” he said. “They will gather all your wealth and distribute it among those who have more children. They will distribute among infiltrators,” Modi added.

“Do you think your hard-earned money should be given to infiltrators? Would you accept this?”

The BJP’s official Instagram page had, in a similar vein, posted a video which alleged that the Congress, if it was elected, was going to snatch “saara paisa, saara wealth (all the money, all the wealth)” of non-Muslims and hand it over to Muslims, which the video added, was “their favourite community”. After all-round outrage and criticism, the ad was taken off Instagram.

The take down notwithstanding, the BJP posted a similar ad on May 5, where it showed animated figures, purportedly of Rahul Gandhi and Karnataka chief minister Siddaramiah allowing “Muslims” to corner resources meant for Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Castes (OBCs).

Dehumanising rhetoric

On social media and off it, references to ‘madrassas’ are often hurled as derogatory, abusive epithets towards Muslims (here, here and here). So widespread is the usage of the term that even the ‘Urban Dictionary’ website has an entry for the term ‘madrasachap’, as ‘an abuse used for people educated from Islamic education centers’.

Speaking in Gujarat’s Anand district on May 2, such a reference found its way into Modi’s speech, too.

Modi mounted an attack on senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid and his niece, Maria Alam Khan, for her remarks on “vote jihad”, where she reportedly asked people in an election meeting to practice “vote jihad” and remove the BJP from power by doing so.

Modi’s attack didn’t end at the remarks.

He referred to Khurshid’s stature and referred to madrassas, saying, “It is not some madrassa-educated kid (saying this); it is a Congress leader with easy access to the Congress’ top leadership, a well-educated leader, who is saying all this.”

The remark met with a loud, ringing applause.

Source: The Wire

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