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BJP’s 2024 poll campaign is riding on disinformation and Muslim vilification

How big a part will disinformation play in the 2024 election campaign? The question has been asked by so many people on so many platforms. As the big fat Indian…

The post BJP’s 2024 poll campaign is riding on disinformation and Muslim vilification appeared first on Alt News.

How big a part will disinformation play in the 2024 election campaign? The question has been asked by so many people on so many platforms. As the big fat Indian election season reaches its peak, the answer is quite clear. At the moment, the BJP’s Lok Sabha 2024 election campaign stands firmly on falsehoods, disinformation and communal hate. These are tools with which the party has always sought to create propaganda in its favour — it is the raison d’etre of the IT cell and Amit Malviya — but with the election season at its peak, the BJP has decided to use them in a no-holds-barred manner.

Modi Leading the Way

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Banswara speech on April 21 — in which he served his audience a cocktail of disinformation and communal hate — was just one example. His denigrating reference to Muslims as ‘infiltrators’ and ‘those who produce more children’ out to take away the wealth of the Hindus drew sharp reactions from the Opposition and the international media while Right Wing trolls like OpIndia editor Nupur J Sharma celebrated it. And then he claimed that the Congress manifesto had said the gold owned by women, particularly their mangalsutra, would be taken away and given to Muslims. Alt News has already shown that the manifesto does not say anything remotely similar to this, by any stretch of the imagination.

Other than deepening communal polarisation, what Modi’s speech was also able to achieve was to steer the entire political discourse, bang in the middle of the elections, to what he saw as a Congress-Muslim nexus to harm Hindus. Every top BJP leader has repeated the trope since. And this villainisation of Muslims, their projection as a devil out to devour the jobs and wealth of Hindus, fits well within the RSS-BJP’s larger communal agenda of ‘Hindu khatre mein hai’ (Hindus are in danger in this country).

On April 23 in Rajasthan’s Tonk-Sawai Madhopur constituency, Modi repeated the falsehoods. He said, referring to his speech two days earlier, “When I came to Rajasthan the day before, for 90 seconds in my speech I presented some truths before the country. It created so much panic in the entire Congress and INDI alliance… I presented the truth before the nation that the Congress has hatched a deep conspiracy to snatch your property and distribute it among their special favourites. I exposed this a couple of days back.”

For over 15 minutes in the 35-minute speech, Modi dwelt on the theory of a Congress-Muslim nexus. Pertinently, just after the publication of the Congress manifesto, Modi had called it the manifesto of the Muslim League. In Tonk, he urged his audience to vote for the BJP to make sure that Ram Navami could be celebrated and Hanuman Chalisa could be sung in the state. He also stated, “You know that they have written in the manifesto that there will be a survey of ‘stree-dhan‘ and ‘mangalsutra’ owned by our mothers and sisters… and then all your wealth which is in excess of your need will be confiscated and distributed. If you have two homes, one will be taken away.”

Fact remains that there is no mention of wealth survey and distribution in the Congress manifesto. Several media outlets, including Alt News, have debunked the false claim by the Prime Minister, including Firstpost, BoomLive, ABP Live, NDTV.

The Prime Minister repeated his claims on Congress’s ‘sinister’ plans to distribute the wealth of the majority among Muslims, in an interview to the Times of India published on April 29 and called it a ‘Maoist thinking and ideology’. Responding to a question on wealth distribution, he stated the following:

Amit Shah

Union home minister Amit Shah addressed a rally in Chhattisgarh’s Kanker the very next day. Shah asked why Congress wanted to do a survey of wealth. He challenged Rahul Gandhi to come clean to the people of India on whether the Congress manifesto talked about a survey. As already mentioned, the Congress manifesto does not talk about a wealth survey. Nor does it talk about redistribution of wealth, let alone among any particular community.

Shah spoke at Guna in Madhya Pradesh on April 26 and in Chhattisgarh’s Bemetera district on April 28. At both the places, he claimed the Congress manifesto had made it clear that the party wanted to introduce Sharia Law and reintroduce triple talaq.

“Read the Congress manifesto carefully. They have said they will re-implement the Muslim personal law and triple talaq. You tell me, can this country be run by Sharia?” he said in his speech in Madhya Pradesh.

In Chhattisgarh, he said, “They have said they will make a separate law for minorities. Tell me, should this country function as per Sharia? Should triple talaq be reintroduced?”

There is no mention of triple talaq or Sharia in the Congress manifesto. About personal laws, the manifesto says in the section titled, ‘Religious and Linguistic Minorities’:

  • Congress will ensure that, like every citizen, minorities have the freedom of choice of dress, food,
    language and personal laws.
  • We will encourage reform of personal laws. Such reform must be undertaken with the participation and
    consent of the communities concerned.

Rajnath Singh

Union defence minister Rajnath Singh, No. 3 in the Modi Cabinet, addressed a meeting in Vishakhapatnam on April 24, dubbed as ‘intellectual meet’. Singh started his speech by pointing out that India’s stature on the global stage has improved significantly in the Modi regime. And then he told the audience the ‘war rukwa di’ story that is so incredulous that it has now turned into a meme. “Our Prime Minister quickly spoke to Russian president Mr Putin and Ukraine president Mr Zelenskyy and the war stopped for four and a half hours and more than 22000 students returned to India. This is India’s stature.”  The ‘intellectuals’ clapped gleefully. The relevant part of his speech can be heard below:

It is now known by many that Union external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi had refuted the claim in a press conference on March 3, 2022, adding, “to say that somebody is holding up bombing or this is something we are coordinating, (that) I think that’s absolutely inaccurate.”

The Muslim question soon entered into his speech. Singh stated that Muslim appeasement and vote-bank politics were in the DNA of Congress which divided the country on the basis of religion together with the Muslim league. “BJP”, he asserted, “never politicized caste, creed and religion.”

Singh lingered on the Muslim question and said that Andhra Pradesh was the first laboratory of Congress’s communal agenda and called it a ‘dirty game’. “Between 2004 and 2010, Congress tried four times to introduce Muslim reservation in Andhra Pradesh but they failed in their mission because of legal provisions and the alertness of the Supreme Court.”

He further said, “The 2024 Congress manifesto cleverly and indirectly talks about introducing Muslim reservation.  Our PM Modiji has exposed this and Congress is now attacking him by claiming he is telling a lie. Truth is that Congress is fooling Indians… If one reads section 3 and section 6 of the chapter on minority in the Congress manifesto, their intentions become clear.” He then reads the two sections, which are as follows:

  • We will encourage and assist students and youth belonging to the minorities to take full advantage of the
    growing opportunities in education, employment, business, services, sports, arts and other fields.
  • We will ensure that the minorities receive their fair share of opportunities in education, healthcare, public
    employment, public works contracts, skill development, sports and cultural activities without discrimination.

This promise of ensuring fairness, Singh said, was “a preparation for bringing religious-based reservation through the back door.” He then extrapolated this to say that all these provisions were based on Sachar Committee report, which sought to divide Indian Army on the basis of religion. “This year’s manifesto hints at reservation based on religion in government jobs. If this is implemented, armed forces may also come under its ambit. This will affect India’s unity and integrity.”

Fact remains that there is no mention of religion-based reservation in the Congress manifesto. The third point in the ‘Equity’ section of the manifesto promises to implement the 10% reservation in jobs and educational institutions for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS), for all castes and communities without discrimination. There is no mention of the Sachar Committee report in the document, either.

The defence minister must be particularly fascinated with the ‘war rukwa di’ claim, because a day before the Vizag meet, he visited Uttar Pradesh’s Bisahda village in Greater Noida on the 23rd where he held a rally in support of BJP’s Gautam Buddha Nagar candidate Mahesh Sharma, and he repeated it there as well.

He has actually made this false claim innumerable times in the past. (April 15, 2024; Jan 10, 2024; May 14, 2023) A lie, repeated again and again, assumes the shape of truth — is a law of propaganda often attributed to the Nazi ideologue Joseph Goebbles.

Yogi Adityanath

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath addressed a public meeting at Amroha on April 23. He repeated the claim that Congress in its election manifesto had expressed intention to implement Sharia law in the country. “Will this country be governed by the Constitution formulated by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar or by some Shariat”? asked BJP’s poster boy of bulldozer justice. He dwelt on the issue for some time, explaining that the promise of introduction of personal laws, i.e., Sharia was made in the Congress manifesto because “PM Modi had stopped triple talaq…”

In another speech in UP’s Sambhal constituency, he claimed that the Congress manifesto had promised a free-hand to Muslims in slaughtering cows.

Anurag Thakur

Addressing a rally in Hamirpur in Himachal Pradesh from where he is seeking reelection, Union minister Anurag Thakur claimed that the imprint of foreign hands were clear in the Congress manifesto, which wanted to “give property of your children to the Muslims.”

“In its manifesto, along with the hand of the Congress, hands of foreign forces are also visible who want to give your children’s property to Muslims, finish the nation’s nuclear arsenal, and divide the country in the name of caste and region,” Thakur said, adding, “It is for you to decide whether your property should go to your children or to the Muslims…”

In all the above speeches, if any one thing was conspicuously clear, it was the attempt to communally polarize the electorate. The BJP, as this Al Jazeera piece notes, is leaving no stone unturned in its effort to turn the 2024 elections into a Hindu Vs Muslim fight. In an article titled “Why Did Modi Call India’s Muslims ‘Infiltrators’? Because He Could.”, the New York Times has traced Modi’s heightened anti-Muslim pitch back to his RSS pracharak days. Deliberating on the need for such a divisive strategy, the NYT writes, “It could be a sign of anxiety that his standing with voters is not as firm as believed, analysts said. Or it could be just a reflexive expression of the kind of divisive religious ideology that has fueled his politics from the start.”

Social Media Foot Soldiers

On expected lines, the trope has been picked up by the BJP’s social media warriors, which include the IT cell and influencers on X and other platforms. A video of Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah pledging equitable distribution of wealth irrespective of caste and religion was shared by Amit Malviya as ‘dangerous and divisive’.  Siddaramaiah had said last year addressing Muslims, “You too should get a share in the wealth of this country. You are also Indian right… This country should belong to you and us. The wealth of this country belongs to you and belongs to us, so I will work to distribute the wealth of this country to you too. In this case, I will say one thing you will not be treated unfairly for any reason. I work to protect you. Similarly, I work to protect people belonging to all religions and castes”. The video was falsely shared by Right Wing influencers like Rishi Bagree and Shashank Shekhar Jha as proof of Congress’s plan to take away the wealth of Hindus and distribute it to Muslims. Bagree and other users also shared a meme which showed Muslims taking over the house of a Hindu family. The caption says: “They’re coming for your family home, your memories, your sweat, your hardwork, your life savings.”

On April 30, the BJP released an animated campaign video on its verified Instagram handle (bjp4india) which is solely about the villainization of Muslims. In it, Rahul Gandhi is portrayed as holding the party’s manifesto, which then turns into the Pakistan flag (Photo below, this is used as the thumbnail of the video as well). The voice-over says, “If Congress comes to power, it will snatch all the money and wealth from non-Muslims and distribute them among Muslims, their favourite community.”

It further states that this has been happening in India since ancient times. “Ancient India was really beautiful. We were so rich and prosperous that each and every average citizen had plenty of gold, plenty of wealth, plenty of riches. And it was this prosperity that made infiltrators and robbers repeatedly invade India. They looted all our wealth and distribute it among themselves. Besides, they destroyed our temples. Congress has been empowering people of this community. Congress party’s manifesto is nothing but Muslim League’s ideology in disguise. If you are a non-Muslim, Congress will snatch your wealth and distribute it to Muslims. Narendra Modi knows of this evil plan. Only he has the strength to prevent it.”

At the peak of the election season in India, the political discourse has thus been captured by false, hateful and, at times, bizarre narratives repeated by every major BJP leader led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. These have been amplified by the party’s social media ecosystem. In all the above speeches that Alt News followed, there was no mention of the much publicized schemes brought in by the Modi government — Startup India, Make in India, Ayushman Bharat et cetera, and steps like demonitzation and the Modi government’s handling of Covid pandemic, which have always been portrayed by the BJP as its achievements. At the moment, the BJP’s 2024 campaign is riding on disinformation and anti-Muslim hate.

The post BJP’s 2024 poll campaign is riding on disinformation and Muslim vilification appeared first on Alt News.

This content originally appeared on Alt News and was authored by Indradeep Bhattacharyya.

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