The reason the prime minister of the “mother of democracy” could refer to more than 200 million Muslim citizens as “infiltrators” and those who “produce many children” is because he could.

If the prime minister can get away with expressions of naked prejudice, it is not only because the Election Commission ignores its constitutional duties. A large swathe of Hindu India applauds and approves of Modi’s bigotry and does not care that their prime minister, after a decade in power, is given to deliberate misinterpretation, religious incitement and outright lies.

Like him, his Hindu supporters do not care about the fact-checks that debunk the Muslims-will-overwhelm-us falsehoods and the common sense that the leader of a multi-cultural, multi-faith nation must unite its people, not go out of his way to divide them and dehumanise its largest minority. What does one say about anyone who buys Modi’s claims that the principal opposition party is out to steal your mangalsutra or has banned the Hanuman chalisa?

Recent history has taught us that the prime minister’s long-standing and unyielding bias against Muslims is kept hidden when convenient and easily deployed when political insecurities grow. Modi’s anti-Muslim bias is dragged out of its dark, hiding place whenever political momentum is required and whenever anything challenges his and the right-wing ecosystem’s Hindu-first worldview.

None of what Modi said is new. As political scientist Gilles Verniers said of Modi’s speech demonising Muslims, “This is not a strategy. It is a world view.”

He has dog-whistled against and demonised Muslims frequently in his career. He sets the example for his colleagues to use anti-Muslim tropes not just to demean his fellow citizens but as a handle to attack the Opposition, usually bereft of fact.

The Washington DC-based research group India Hate Lab recorded 668 instances of hate speech in 2023. While 255 events were reported in the first half of 2023, that figure rose to 413 in the second half of the year, three-fourths emanating from Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states. Facts are irrelevant in these hate speeches, which come mainly from the BJP and its Hindutva allies, who frequently, for instance, invoke an imagined history, reflecting Modi’s own insecurities and tenuous relationship with fact.

After Modi’s speech, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath wildly claimed that a Congress government meant “sharia rule”. In Karnataka, the BJP’s social media handles – given to more anti-Muslim virulence and fabrications than any other state – put out this tweet of not misrepresentations but outright lies.

Anti-Muslim sentiment and support for Modi are commonly expressed across northern India, where unemployment and poverty are worse than in most other parts of India. The veneer of development that Modi propagates has frequently been washed away by the abrasive effect of his instinctive communalism, but that does not bother many Hindu societies.

It is hard to say if the prime minister’s diatribe was prompted by a palpable lack of excitement over his campaign or talk of equality in the Congress manifesto – or both – rattling the BJP in a country that experts have said is witnessing a historic peak of inequality.

From a larger perspective, India’s economy is robust, but that growth is driven by the top 1%, which now boasts a concentration of wealth rarely seen before, a “Billionaire Raj”, as some leading economists recently described it. This wealth is particularly concentrated in the hands of tycoons close to the prime minister or companies depending on government licences, contracts, or permissions, a plutocracy that genuflects to Modi’s regime, as recent data on electoral bonds revealed.

Households are in debt as never before, rural distress is widespread and evident despite a deliberate government-created data vacuum, even the flagship IT sector is struggling to create jobs, and 800 million Indians depend on subsidised government food. That number may increase by 100 million, if the government were to conduct a census.

This is a good time to remember that Modi inveigled his way into India’s collective political imagination not because of his business-friendly government in Gujarat and his ability to lift all boats but because he was perceived by the majority Hindu population to have shown Muslims their place at the bottom of the heap.

This misrepresentation continues. The formidable Modi marketing machine has played a great part in portraying him as someone who cuts through the interference and builds toilets and highways, as easily as he holds off the Chinese, bloodies the Pakistanis, stops the war in Ukraine to bring our students home and delivers almost divine intervention to build the Ram Temple in Ayodhya.

Millions of India’s Hindus endorse Modi because they believe in his now-messianic appeal largely for sectarian reasons, despite his widespread failures and attempts to fracture India’s society into them and us.

As this video makes clear, even those who have not benefitted from Modi’s claims of “har ghar jal” (water to every house) are not overly concerned over broken promises. They would, they said, vote for him anyway. So they would, a woman said in another of many such interviews littering social media, even if petrol climbs to Rs 500 per litre or a gas cylinder to Rs 5,000.


Despite the efforts of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Modi, Hindu society is still not a monolith, and it is the continuing and instinctive secularism and adherence to religion’s penchant for accommodation – especially in the south – that offers hope for the future.

Yet, for many Muslims and other minorities, the historic plurality of Hinduism and a shared past is scant comfort. Too many have seen friends and colleagues turn on them with greater virulence than ever in the Modi era and lived with the despair of being ostracised, abused, and othered.

Modi is what he is. To expect him to change is unrealistic. Whether Hindu society can or wants to is the big question that will be answered in these elections.

Samar Halarnkar is the editor of, a website that focusses on issues related to the rule of law and democracy in India.