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Leading From the Front

Jacob Peenikaparambil Jacob Peenikaparambil
29 Apr 2024

"Leading from the front" is one of the excellent qualities of an ideal leader. It can mean being a role model in practising moral and ethical values, taking initiative, being ready to face any challenge, etc. A leader who leads from the front is a great people person who can build a good rapport with individuals, get his team members to deliver the best, and earn respect across the board. He doesn't demand respect or show that he holds a position of authority. At the same time, he generally gains acceptance and respect quickly. Also, such a leader believes he is responsible for his team's successes and failures and does not shy away from getting his hands dirty and accepting his failures.

Unfortunately, our prime minister, Narendra Modi, appears to have failed to measure up to the original or positive meaning of the phrase "leading from the front". On the contrary, he is leading from the front in hate speech against the Muslim community and the main opposition party, the Congress. Ever since Congress released its manifesto, Nyay Patra, based on the real issues of people, like large-scale unemployment, soaring price rises and increasing corruption, the BJP and the PM appear to have become clueless. They don't have a proper response or a counter-narrative and vision to be presented before the people of India. Therefore, the BJP, under the leadership of the PM, started imputing communal colour or intention to the Congress manifesto.

While addressing an election rally in Saharanpur, UP, on April 6, the prime minister equated the Congress with the Muslim League and said that the grand old party's election manifesto "completely bears the imprint of the Muslim League" during the freedom movement. In fact, there is no such issue or reference in the Congress manifesto. It is purely a fabrication or mischievous imputation by PM Modi.

The PM made the second and highly poisonous accusation on Sunday, April 21, while addressing an election rally at Banswara in Rajasthan. Modi said if voted into power, the country's main opposition, the Indian National Congress, would distribute the country's wealth among infiltrators and those who have more children, in an apparent reference to the Muslim community.

"When they (the Congress) were in power, they said Muslims have first right over resources. They will gather all your wealth and distribute it among those who have more children. They will distribute among infiltrators," Modi said to thunderous roars from the audience. "Do you think your hard-earned money should be given to infiltrators? Would you accept this?" Modi asked the audience. He went on to say that the Congress may even distribute Hindu women's mangalsutras to Muslims.

PM Narendra Modi took a statement of former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Sigh that was made 18 years ago, distorted it deliberately, and peddled a lie with the clear objective of creating fear in the Hindus that the opposition Congress Party would give the wealth of the country to Muslims. Modi should have known that his predecessor had included large groups of people like women, backward classes, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, along with the minorities as the first claimants to the resources of the nation.

Not only the opposition party leaders but also civil society members reacted strongly to the worst kind of hate speech by a country's prime minister. As reported in The Telegraph on April 23, a statement to the poll panel signed by 17,421 people at the initiative of an organisation called Samvidhan Bachao Nagarik Abhiyan appealed to the poll body to censure PM Modi.

Terming Modi's election speech in Rajasthan's Banswara as "hate speech", Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge said in a post on X that it was nothing but a ploy by Modi to divert people's attention from his government's failures. "Today Modiji's panic-filled speech showed that INDIA is winning in the first phase results. What Modi Ji said is not only a hate speech but also a well-thought-out ploy to divert attention. Today the Prime Minister did what he has learnt from the values of the Sangh. Lying for power, making baseless references to things and making false accusations on opponents is the speciality of the training of RSS and BJP". He also said, "In the history of India, no Prime Minister has lowered the dignity of his post as much as Modiji has."

The CPI (M) 's X handle termed Modi's speech the "desperation of a despot". The party urged the Election Commission to act against the PM immediately. "Shame on you, Mr Modi. You speak the language of communal bigots, inciting hatred, abusing a community to get votes. Your words mark your desperation," said the Left party's poster on X.

CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury wrote, "This is atrocious! The silence of the Election Commission is more atrocious!! Modi's inflammatory speech is a gross violation of the Moral Code of Conduct & Supreme Court pronouncements on Hate Speech. Merits strictest action & contempt of Court", he wrote on X.

Muslim lawmaker and president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen, Asaduddin Owaisi, said: "Modi today called Muslims infiltrators and people with many children. Since 2002 till this day, the only Modi guarantee has been to abuse Muslims and get votes."
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi commented on Modi's "disappointment" after the first voting phase on April 19, saying it had led to the "level of his lies" falling to a new low to divert public attention.

This is not the first time PM Modi has indulged in hate speech against Muslims. He has a track record of hurling hate-filled invectives against Muslims from the time he became the Chief Minister of Gujarat. The very foundation of his rise in the power structure of the Sangh Parivar and reaching the highest post in the country is embedded in his hatred towards Muslims and using it cunningly to polarise the Hindus.

Just after the 2002 Gujarat violence, Modi famously referred to relief camps for displaced Muslims as child-producing centres, and in the same speech, used the phrase Hum paanch, hamare pachees (we five, our 25) referring to an imagined Muslim family consisting of one man, four wives and 25 children, the associated myth of the rapidly expanding Muslim population.

More recently, when asked if he regretted the violence in Gujarat in 2002, he responded, "even if a puppy comes under the wheel of your car, it is painful", appearing to compare the predominantly Muslim victims to puppies.

Regarding the 2015 Bihar assembly elections, Modi stated: "I will put my life at stake if there is a bid to curtail quota to benefit a particular community, to create the fear of reservations for Muslims which no main party had promised.

In the run-up to the 2019 general election, he accused Congress leader Rahul Gandhi of contesting from Wayanad in Kerala because Hindus are a minority in this constituency. Although exact demographic data are not available, the district has about 50% Hindus with substantial Muslim and Christian minorities.

During the 2023 assembly election in Karnataka, PM Modi began his election speech at Karnataka's Kalburgi with "Bajrangbali Ki Jai."

What could be the reason for the Prime Minister becoming angry and resorting to the worst kind of hate speech? Journalist Ashutosh, in an article titled, "Slip of tongue or part of a well-planned strategy?" in the Free Press on April 23, asserted that it is the result of a well-thought-out plan. According to him, there are four reasons for the PM's blatantly communal speech.

First, the PM and his party have claimed that the BJP would sweep the 2024 parliamentary elections with 370 seats in its kitty and 400 seats for the NDA. Low polling in the first phase has indicated that there is no Modi wave. There is a lack of incentive to vote for the Modi government for a third term. Reaching the target of 370 is a herculean task for the BJP.

Second, Muslim votes may be polarising in favour of the Congress because of Rahul Gandhi's Bharat Jodo Yatra. If a large number of Hindu voters are not enthused to go to the polling booths and vote for the BJP, then PM Modi and the BJP's dream can be torpedoed.

Third, the BJP has long used polarisation of voters along the Hindu-Muslim line. The CSDS survey has shown that people are unhappy with the Modi government because of high unemployment, price rises, and rising corruption in the last five years. People have put the blame squarely on the central government more than the state governments. The balloon of the Vikas model has burst. Against this backdrop, the PM is resorting to a high dose of communalism.

Fourth, targeting the Muslim community is also a tactic to provoke the Muslims to do "something stupid", which can galvanise Hindu votes in favour of the BJP. But this also may not work because the Muslims have realised that any violent act on their part will adversely impact the community and help the forces of Hindutva.

The ground reports indicate that Modi has set an extremely high target for the party. Since he finds it challenging to achieve the target, he is in a dilemma expressed through hate speech. Contrary to his expectation, neither the Hindus are enthused, nor the Muslims are provoked despite spitting communal venom by the PM and his party leaders. One can expect more provocation from the PM in this election season. What happened in Banswara could only be a trailer, and the actual show may be followed if the Election Commission doesn't rise to the occasion and fulfil its constitutional obligations.

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