Indian ruling party’s Islamophobic campaign video removed after backlash

An animated video put out by Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has been removed from Instagram after it sparked a backlash for demonising Muslims.

India’s prime minister and his Hindu nationalist party have been accused of widening the country’s communal divide by targeting religious minorities, particularly Muslims, on the campaign trail for the ongoing national elections.

Nearly a billion Indians are voting in the election spread across six weeks until the first week of June. Mr Modi is seeking to win a rare third term against a weakened alliance of opposition parties.

The video, posted by the ruling party on its Instagram page on 30 April, pushed Mr Modi’s rhetoric against the country’s Muslims and the main opposition Congress party.

It showed Rahul Gandhi, the son of the late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and the face of the Congress opposition party, holding his party’s manifesto whose cover then morphs into what appears to be Pakistan’s national flag.

A voiceover falsely claims that if "the Congress party comes to power, it will snatch all the money and wealth of non-Muslims and distribute it to Muslims. Their favourite community!”

Mr Modi’s party and the Hindu nationalist ecosystem it’s embedded in – collectively known as the Sangh Parivar – are proponents of making India a Hindu-first nation and routinely attack Muslims with sectarian dog whistles. This was a rare instance when it targeted the minority community by name.

Supporters of prime minister Narendra Modi during an election campaign rally in Anand, Gujarat (Reuters)
Supporters of prime minister Narendra Modi during an election campaign rally in Anand, Gujarat (Reuters)

The video went on to parrot another false claim made by Mr Modi that former prime minister Manmohan Singh had said "Muslims have the first claim on resources".

It portrayed Muslims as barbaric "infiltrators" and "outsiders" who looted India. "Congress party's manifesto is nothing but Muslim League's ideology in disguise.”

It wasn’t immediately clear if the video was taken down by the BJP or by Instagram after it was reported by a large number of users.

The Independent has reached out to both the ruling party and Meta for comment.

The video may well be found to be in violation of the country’s model code of conduct, which prohibits parties and candidates from indulging in hate speech while campaigning for elections. Several of those commenting on social media called for the election commission to investigate.

Ahead of the national elections, chief election commissioner Rajeev Kumar issued a warning against hate speech and "speeches along caste or religious lines".

The election commission last week issued a notice to the ruling party after Mr Modi gave a speech in which he falsely referred to the country’s Muslims as “infiltrators”. India is home to the largest population of Muslims in the world – nearly 200 million.

Addressing a campaign rally in Banswara in the western Rajasthan state last month, Mr Modi said that if the Congress party was voted to power it would redistribute wealth from “Hindu wives and daughters” to “those with more children”, another dog whistle that Hindu nationalists employ against the Muslims.

“Earlier, when they were in power, they had said Muslims have the first right to the wealth of the nation,” Mr Modi said, referring to the Congress. “This means they will distribute this wealth to those who have more children, to infiltrators. Should your hard earned money be given to infiltrators? Do you approve of this?”

The prime minister alleged that the Congress party’s manifesto declared that it would “take stock of the gold mothers and daughters have, and will distribute that wealth”.

The Congress manifesto makes no such claims.

The manifesto, called Nyay Patra or ”Letter of Justice”, merely states that “the economic empowerment of minorities is a necessary step for India to realise its full potential” and, if voted to power, the Congress “will ensure that banks will provide institutional credit to minorities without discrimination”.

The ruling party’s litany of false allegations targeting the Congress – allegations amplified on the campaign trail by Mr Modi and repeated in the now-deleted video – began after Sam Pitroda, the chair of the Indian Overseas Congress, suggested that the country should discuss introducing an inheritance tax, where the government takes 55 per cent of a person's wealth after his death.

"If a person has property worth $10m, then after his death, 45 per cent of the property goes to his children and 55 per cent of the property goes to the government," Mr Pitroda told ANI news agency.

The Congress party has distanced itself from the proposal saying it didn't reflect the party's position.