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It Is Not Just Rhetoric, Hate Against Muslims Embodies Modi’s Core Hindutva Ideology

When India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi uses the term — “infiltrators” for the Muslim citizens of India, it is not simply rhetoric, but he is implementing the political enterprise — the alternative reality RSS weaved for India.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi raises both hands to wave at a crowd of his supporters who cheer when he uses the term "infiltrators" for Muslim citizens of India.
Illustration by Pius Fozan with help from AI Image Creator

“Congress earlier said Muslims had the first right in the country’s wealth. In their manifesto, the Congress said they will distribute the country’s whom? Earlier, when their (Congress) government was in power, they had said that Muslims have the first right to the country’s assets. This means they will distribute the wealth among those who have more children, among infiltrators. Should your hard-earned money go to the infiltrators? Do you approve of this?” (Modi, 2024, 27:13)

This is the speech Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered to thousands of people in Banswara in Rajasthan – a western Indian state. The key word is — “infiltrators” and the key narrative is — these “infiltrators” have more children. But more children than who? And who are these infiltrators?

In other words, the subtitle is — that their population will outgrow the population of the majority who in Modi’s worldview are the natives of this land.

In another election speech on 15 December 2019, in Dumka (Jharkhand), Narendra Modi said:

“The Congress and their friends are making noise, creating a storm. When their arguments do not stand, they resort to spreading fire. Brothers and sisters, those who are setting fire, and those visuals that are broadcast on television, who are these people? They can be identified by their clothes.” (Modi, 2019, 10:28)

This is Narendra Modi’s dog-whistling. His language is neither innocuous nor ambiguous; he is demonising Muslim citizens of India. Modi is a far-right populist.

One of the central elements of a far-right populist’s strategy is the construction of an “enemy” and the identification of a perceived threat. This tactic serves to create the binary of “the evil” and “the pure”. It consolidates support by fostering a sense of victimhood and presenting a clear, simple target for blame and opposition. Far-right populists like Modi achieve this by utilizing various tools, most importantly language, symbolism, and gestures.

A part of my master’s thesis research, I examined hateful far-right rhetoric, utilizing NDTV’s hate speech data from 2018. Within this dataset, my research revealed how Modi’s dog-whistling normalizes and reinforces dehumanizing perceptions of Indian Muslims. This interconnectedness between Modi’s rhetoric and the normalization of hateful narratives is demonstrated in the following treemap.

Choreographing the enemy

Far-right leaders like Modi thrive on fear. And to induce fear they need to give people a demon, an enemy, an evil who is impure. Fear breeds crisis, and in times of crisis, people polarize, coalescing into sectarian groups, ideological organizations, and political affiliations.

When fear and crisis run parallel, leaders present themselves as messiahs and offer people an alternative reality to mobilize them. This involves portraying an untrue — a different version of the country, economy, society, and politics than what currently exists.

Modi, therefore, is not just peddling rhetoric, nor is he himself the political project. He is making a century-old nativist ideology functional which is a part of a grander political project aimed at building a “Hindu Rashtra.” Under his 10-year rule, he has normalized anti-Muslim rhetoric and, by extension, mainstreamed the alternative idea of a “Hindu Rashtra.”

The Hindutva nation-building project

The imagination of India as a nation in the minds and works of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has been in unambiguous conflict with the mainstream freedom movement led by Gandhi, Nehru, Bose, Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh and other contemporary revolutionaries fighting the British occupation.

The inception of RSS is a milestone but not the beginning of this imagination of a different India. It began with Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. Tamil and Malayalam author Bahuleyan Jeyamohan calls him “venom” and “fountainhead of fundamentalism in India” and his politics as “antithetical to democracy.”

In Savarkar’s imagination of India, Hindus were organized as a homogeneous group and professed “Hindu-ness” — a political enterprise of “Hindutva”. Savarkar in his essay — “Essentials of Hindutva” proposed, “the first important essential qualification of a Hindu is that to him the land that extends from Sindhu to Sindhu (from the Indus to the Seas) is the Fatherland, (Pitribhu) the Motherland (Matribhu) the land of his patriarchs and forefathers.”

This definition was extended to other religions such as Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism considered to be “variants” of Hinduism, since they met the criteria of “Hindu-ness” laid out by Savarkar. However, members of Christianity and Islam did not qualify as Hindus since these religions were born outside India.

Savarkar’s Hindutva was the beginning of a political enterprise, a political ideology that pitted itself against the ideology of Indian nationalism and secular democracy championed by the Constituent Assembly, Gandhi and Nehru. Gandhi’s vision for India embodied equal civil liberties and opportunities for people of all faiths. In contrast, Savarkar envisioned an India that exalted the majority of Hindutva and held sway over other faiths and individuals.

Not just rhetoric

Therefore, when Modi uses the term — “infiltrators” for the Muslim citizens of India, it is not simply rhetoric, but he is implementing the political enterprise — the alternative reality RSS weaved for India. In other words, his demonization of Muslim citizens serves two distinct objectives.

Firstly, it aids the Hindutva enterprise in branding the Congress, and its leader Rahul Gandhi, as elites who were born with “golden spoons” (Modi, 2013, 34:37) — a classic populist characterization. By utilizing this term, Modi and his lieutenants seek to portray the opposition as disconnected from the realities faced by ordinary citizens and foster a sense of resentment towards their (Gandhi family) perceived privileged status.

Secondly, the use of Urdu words in reference to Congress and Rahul Gandhi is a well-thought subtle subliminal messaging tactic, designed to highlight the alleged appeasement policy of the Congress towards Muslims. It serves to equate Rahul Gandhi with Muslims and Mughal rulers as imaginary enemies, thereby insinuating that both Mr Gandhi and his party are obstructing the pursuit of an alternative reality of India as the Vishwa Guru (world teacher) envisaged by Mr Modi’s party. Through this repetitive rhetorical (language) strategy, Modi and the BJP essentially delegitimize both the opposition party and Indian Muslims, positioning them as impediments to the grander vision of the Sangh Parivar.


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