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India's ruling party is accused of incitement against Muslim minority

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

As India's six-weeks-long elections rumble on, the leading Hindu nationalists face allegations of incitement against the Muslim minority. NPR's Diaa Hadid is in Mumbai.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: It began with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Hindu nationalist BJP at a rally days after elections began.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI: (Speaking Hindi).

HADID: He says, "The opposition Congress Party will take your wealth. And who will they give it to?"

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MODI: (Speaking Hindi).

HADID: "To infiltrators." To Hindu nationalists, that's shorthand for the country's 200 million Muslims. That speech triggered a wave of anti-Muslim rhetoric by other BJP leaders and in campaign material like this animation shared on the party's Instagram.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: If you are a non-Muslim, Congress will snatch your wealth and distribute it to Muslims.

HADID: This anti-Muslim rhetoric hasn't gone unnoticed in a country where speech that incites to communal hatred is illegal. That video was taken down by the BJP after it received widespread criticism online. India's election commission ordered X to take down another similar video. The police in one Indian state summoned the chief of the BJP over it.

But the election commission has not punished Modi over his rhetoric. It has sent a notice of violation to the BJP's party chief. The commission asked for a response by the end of April, but the BJP has failed to do so thus far. And the BJP hasn't directly answered questions about why they're targeting Muslims like this. Raheel Dhattiwala is an expert on political violence in India. She says Hindu nationalists like the BJP use language that can trigger violence...

RAHEEL DHATTIWALA: When a party is about to lose but it has a chance of winning.

HADID: Dhattiwala still expects the BJP to win, but she and other analysts say the expectation that Modi would cruise to a third consecutive win now appears to be less likely. Weeks in, they say - amid low voter turnout, bruising inflation and incumbency fatigue - Modi and the BJP might only scrape back into power. And so the BJP will need every vote possible.

Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Mumbai.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE GASLAMP KILLER'S "KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Diaa Hadid
Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.