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Meat, Mughals, Maoists, and Now Mangalsutra

Essentially, it boils down to two fear-mongering staples: “Muslims are coming to rob you and dishonour your women!”

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Prime Minister Modi is clutching at the mangalsutra. Is he afraid that he’s drowning?  

The Congress manifesto proposes socio-economic justice and inclusion for the poor, the deprived, and the jobless. The prime minister's response is as ludicrous as vulgar graffiti on a toilet wall.

Essentially, it boils down to two overworked fear-mongering staples: “The Muslims are coming to rob you and dishonour your women!”

This distortion of the Congress party’s manifesto is too cartoonish for even the most devoted Modi-bhakt to swallow.

Why is he so spooked by talk of economic and social welfare that he can only respond with foul-mouthed hate speech? Did he rummage in the records of two whole terms in power for evidence of achievements on these fronts – and come up empty?

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The prime minister accused the Opposition of having a “Mughal mindset” for eating meat on video. He then said that the Congress manifesto bore the stamp of the Muslim League. Next, he said the manifesto bore the stamp of Maoists/Urban Naxals, influenced by whom the Congress planned to plunder people of their property and hand it over to Muslims.

And now, he said that the Congress wouldn’t even spare even the mangalsutra (sacred thread/chain symbolising married womanhood in some Hindu traditions). The gist of what he said was: They’ll snatch the mangalsutras from the very necks of Hindu women. Do you want these handed over to “those who breed more children”, to “infiltrators”?

Let’s break down what he’s saying. In 20th-century cinema storylines, the mangalsutra was the precarious safety net preventing the Hindu Good Wife from falling to the stature of Widow; or rescuing the Hindu Fallen Woman and raising her up from disrepute to decent domesticity. But in the 21st century, the mangalsutra (like ek chutki bhar sindoor) has become a rather dated trope, the subject of the playful and affectionate spoof. 

The prime minister, however, does something far more disturbing. He introduces the Muslim as the antagonist of the mangalsutra. Instantly, it’s clear that he isn’t really making the unconvincing argument that the Congress policies of welfare and redistribution will mean that women will lose the right even to their most personal and meaningful jewellery.

“Congress snatching the mangalsutra” is code for Muslim defilement of Hindu womanhood and dishonour of Hindu men.

This can be compared with Amit Shah’s referring to Muslims in a 2013 election speech in UP as “jo hamare bahan betiyon ke aabroo par haath dalta hai” - “those who snatch at (lay their hands on) the honour of our sisters and daughters.”    

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This isn’t the first time Modi has used the slur “those who breed more children” to refer to Muslims.

In a post-riots election speech in 2002 as Gujarat Chief Minister, he warned that “those who are multiplying population at a rapid rate will need to learn a lesson.” He referred to relief camps for riot-displaced Muslims as “child-producing centres.” “Hum paanch, humare pachees (We five, our 25)”, he jeered, implying that polygamy among Muslims allowed them to reproduce faster. 

BJP leaders habitually imply that Muslims are un-Indian.

Amit Shah promised that with the CAA that excluded Muslims, the BJP would throw “infiltrators” who infest the country like “termites,” into the Bay of Bengal. ‘Urban Naxal’ is the phrase that the BJP uses to imply that intellectuals, students, and activists pursuing social and economic justice and human rights are in fact, traitors and terrorists.  

Modi’s escalating shrillness betrays his escalating insecurity. Unemployment and inflation are easily the top issues in 2024.

The stark contrast between the resulting struggles for survival and the soaring wealth of Modi’s cronies is impossible for the voter to forget when media and social media are saturated with the grotesque exhibition of royal riches at the engagement celebrations of the Ambani scion.   
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The ED-electoral bonds “chronology” of extortion is simple enough for a child to grasp. As is the ED protection racket where a long line of Opposition politicians threatened with ED corruption cases which miraculously evaporate on joining the BJP. Defy such extortion and your party will be locked out of its bank account and you’ll find yourself in a jail cell even if you’re a sitting Chief Minister in India’s capital.    

The prime minister has lost command of the narrative. To take back the reins, he’s laying out the diversionary and divisive script of crude, undisguised Islamophobic hate-mongering, for the ‘Godi Media’ to amplify.

(Kavita Krishnan is a women's rights activist. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Topics:  Hate Speech   Members Only   Elections 2024 

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