Even the high office of the Prime Minister cannot contain the divisive instincts of Narendra Modi. On Monday, addressing an election rally in Buxar in Bihar, he spoke of a “conspiracy” by his opponents to snatch away a part of the reservation benefits from Dalits and Backward groups in the state to give to “another community.” He said:
“Five percent from the Dalits, five percent from Mahadalits, 5% from Backwards, 5% from Extremely Backwards. There is a conspiracy to take away from their quota to give to another community.”

The community was not named but it was lost on no one that Modi was targeting Muslims. With the Bharatiya Janata Party fearing a loss of votes from Dalit and Backward communities on account of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat’s comments asking for a review of reservations in educational institutions and jobs, Modi was doing what he knows best – deflect blame to Muslims.

That no such reservation promise has been made by the grand alliance of Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav, either in their party manifestos or in their poll campaign, made little difference. To serve his aim of polarising votes along religious lines, Modi dredged up a stillborn idea mooted in 2012 by the United Progressive Alliance government which said it would carve out a sub-quota of 4.5% for Muslims within the 27% OBC quota. If the UPA had mislead Muslims – the Supreme Court had put on hold a similar provision in Andhra Pradesh and is yet to decide on the constitutional validity of religion-based reservations – Modi was multiplying the lie. Notice how he masterfully – and maliciously – converted 5% into 20% by claiming 5% would be taken from four different categories.

Modi went on to say:
“I was born of the womb of a poor mother. I have grown up selling tea. And so I assure Bihar’s Dalits, Mahadalits, Backwards, Extremely Backwards, that if anyone tries to snatch even ratti bhar aarakshan (even a small portion of reservations) away from you to give to another community, Modi will sacrifice his life to protect it."

Modi should know that Muslims fall in the same category that he seeks to protect with his life. In Bihar, as in many other states, Muslim groups are included in the list of Other Backward Classes and Extremely Backward Classes. Of the 150-odd castes and communities on the EBC and OBC list in Bihar, for instance, 28 are Muslim communities. These include Idrisi (tailor), Kasab (butcher), Miriasin, Rayeen, among others, groups which are socially, educationally, economically as backward, if not more, than their Hindu counterparts.

Modi should know that caste is so powerful in India that even those who converted to Islam were not able to escape it and continue to suffer the social and economic deprivations that come with being low caste. In fact, there has long been a demand to include Muslim communities in the Scheduled Caste list, to recognise them as Dalits.

Modi should know that a vast majority of Muslims live at the bottom of the barrel in India. You cannot pit Muslims against Dalits and Backwards. Muslims are Dalits and Backwards.

The tragedy is that Modi knows all this and more. He has experience of three decades and more in public life, has extensively travelled through the country, has served nearly three terms as chief minister of a state. When he peddles lies in public, it doesn't reflect ignorance, but malice.

Forget Mahesh Sharma, the culture minister who praised a former President for being a nationalist "despite being a Muslim". By pitting the poor against the poor, India's Prime Minister has displayed the worst kind of malice against Muslims.