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Indian Elections
To Woo Hindu Voters, BJP Goes Back to Sectarian Roots

Voters in the Indian city of Muzaffarnagar and adjoining districts in the key state of Uttar Pradesh went to the polls on Thursday amid lingering sectarian tension from recent riots. Thousands of Muslims were displaced last year and still cannot move back to their homes for fear of reprisals. Amit Shah, a Hindu nationalist stalwart and PM candidate Narendra Modi’s right hand man, called for “revenge” against a government that “protects and gives compensation to those who killed Hindus” at an election rally. There’s more, as Reuters reports:

In a series of speeches in the area, Shah also said voters should reject parties that put up Muslim candidates. He said Muslims in the area had raped, killed and humiliated Hindus. […]

India’s 1.2 billion people include 150 million Muslims, who form a sizeable minority in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous state and a key electoral battleground.

The riots in Muzaffarnagar last year started with a minor scuffle, which were exacerbated by inflammatory speeches by several local politicians, news reports have said.

Secular Indians and religious minorities have been deeply skeptical of Modi, who was Chief Minister then, for his alleged role in sectarian riots that killed at least 1000 people, mostly Muslims, in his home state of Gujarat in 2002. Since then, Modi has been cleared of any wrongdoing by the Supreme Court, and he’s tried to improve his image. He had Muslim clerics endorse his campaign, issued burqas for women at election rallies, and promised of good governance and economic prosperity. However, his party’s rhetoric took an increasingly sectarian tone just as the elections began, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, where sectarian divisions are strong.

Part of it is just electioneering. Caste and religion have historically played a key role in shaping and mobilizing constituencies, and the inflammatory rhetoric is intended to make sure party supporters vote on election day. A Muslim candidate recently said that it was India’s Muslim soldiers who won a war with Pakistan, not the Hindus, for the same purpose.

But this is Modi, and his shameful record when it comes to maintaining communal harmony does not give him as much leeway. Still struggling to distance himself from the Gujarat riots, for which he still has not apologized, Modi should think twice about embracing a sectarian Hindu narrative.

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  • B-Sabre

    And the hits, they just keep coming…

  • Rajdeep Sardesai

    Hinduism unites the majority in india. It is what will keep india united. I am very encouraged by modi. Primacy to indian heritage and culture is a welcome development. Western observers need some sensitivity training and start treating ancient indian culture and heritage with respect.

  • Rajdeep Sardesai

    The BJP is not much different from the republican party in the US. The bigotry displayed by the author is not surprising, given his previous posts on this issue. The only sources he cites are sources that are blind to the realities in India. Views as the one displayed in this article will produce no good outcome. Nobody in India will give any attention to a one sided article that ignores indias rich culture and history. If US policy makers listen to such advice (as they have been doing so far), they are making a big mistake.

    If you really want good relations with india, learn to like and appreciate hindu culture. And remember, every person practising yoga in the US is practising hinduism.

  • Rajdeep Sardesai

    Mr Amit shah called for people to take revenge against the UP government by voting against it. I dont see anything wrong with what he said.

    I am getting tired of the garbage you are posting here. I dont see any benefit from reading this website. A lot of it is propaganda and blatant falsehoods. If US policymakers are indeed considering the opinions in these pages, it helps explain why US foreign policy is such a disaster today.

  • gabrielsyme

    As disappointing as the BJP’s continued sectarian demagogy is, it is also the price of a functioning democracy in India. A line needs to be drawn at incitement to violence, and any BJP-led government needs to be held to account; but sectarian rhetoric is almost unavoidable in a poor and divided nation. We are probably fortunate that sectarian violence has not been worse in India.

  • Jaldhar H. Vyas

    I am usually here as a defender of Modi but I agree this represents an ugly side of his appeal. What I would like to know is why is it only now that the great and good have realized that Indian politicians can be demagogues. This has been par for the course since 1947.

    For that matter how is this kind of overblown rhetoric different than Pres. Obamas phony “war against women”?

    Don’t hate the player hate the game.

  • Breif2

    Shah called to vote against the current “government in “revenge” against its perceived sectarian policies? The horror! Next thing you know, he’ll be calling upon Hindus to “punish their enemies”!

    (Not that I don’t find some elements of the BJP distasteful and worrying.)

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