Modi’s Muslim Marginalization: India’s Minorities as the BJP’s Scapegoat

By Joshua Bowes, Research Associate SAFN

Credit: WikiMedia Commons Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the swearing-in-ceremony held at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Despite India’s national elections revealing an unexpected drop in support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the 2024 voting period saw no change in the BJP’s anti-minority stance. Modi and the all-powerful BJP regularly portray the country’s more than 200 million Muslims as a scapegoat for the social and political challenges faced by New Delhi. India’s minorities, including Christians and Muslims, already victim to frequent public attacks, have become a target of Modi’s recent xenophobic rhetoric. Even with a galvanized fanbase, the decline in votes for Modi and his Hindu nationalist troupe might be partly attributed to the BJP’s targeting of Muslims and minorities. 

For Modi and the Hindu nationalist BJP, non-Hindu Indians are unwelcome parasites of society. As Modi’s leadership of the BJP enters its tenth year, the party’s stance has gradually become more aggressively anti-Muslim, culminating in what is now a vehemently islamophobic agenda. In recent political rallies, Modi has labeled Muslims as ‘infiltrators’ and accused the religious minority of purposefully having large families to depopulate India’s Hindus. Facing challenges in the economic sector, Modi’s campaign for reelection has largely concentrated on economic progress, scapegoating Muslims as conspiring to ‘loot’ New Delhi of its wealth. Modi has accused leaders of the BJP’s rival party, the Indian National Congress, of planning to redistribute India’s wealth to the country’s minority Muslim population, if elected. His polarizing comments come during the third round of multi-phase national elections, meaning important seats are up for election, specifically in the provinces of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka. On 6 May, controversy swirled on social media when the BJP posted an animated video on X (formerly Twitter) depicting senior Congress party leaders catering to the needs of Muslims and neglecting Hindus and other castes. Opposition leaders said the video demonizes Muslims, leading the Election Commission of India to ask X to remove the video, claiming it violated Indian law. In such a tumultuous election period, many Muslims are questioning whether their votes will even matter. As Modi and the BJP strategize for votes, the Muslim population of India, making up around 15% of the country’s population, have become deeply disenfranchised with the political system. Hindrances of effective organization and vote fragmentation have rendered many Muslims hopeless. As outlined by the Middle East Eye, in almost 75% of India’s constituencies, Muslims have little political influence, with many choosing not to vote against the BJP or BJP-aligned parties for fear of retaliation. Modi’s purposeful marginalization of his nation’s largest minority means that they have little say in the future of their country. As they are cast to the side, India’s Muslims face a dark period ahead, pitted as public enemy number one in an increasingly islamophobic society.

India’s history of religious tensions is embedded within the country’s colonial history, spurred by disagreements between opposing groups as to the direction of India’s future in1947. India’s constitution, over seven decades old, recognizes social equality and egalitarianism but is not clear about the separation of church and state, which has allowed Hindu nationalists to surge to power. The Indian Congress’ turn to Hindu majoritarianism in the 1970s and 80s catalyzed the development of extreme political groups like the BJP. The BJP’s predecessor, the paramilitary group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), thrived during this time period, eventually allowing for the takeover of the BJP. When Modi secured his second term as Prime Minister in 2019,  his ascension was driven by anti-Muslim rhetoric. Not only humiliated and degraded under Modi’s government, the policy-based discrimination faced by Indian Muslims in their own country is widespread and severe. Many Muslims lack access to employment, education, housing and healthcare. In January 2024, Modi and his BJP authorities were accused of inciting the demolition of Muslim homes and carrying out a campaign of targeted destruction against Muslim-owned properties. Recent political moves from the BJP indicate a desire to negate the citizenship of India’s Muslims. In March 2024, New Delhi announced plans to enact one such discriminatory policy, a 2019 law named the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Upon its initial reveal in 2019, country-wide protests led to deaths of dozens of revolters. CAA fast-tracks Indian citizenship for non-Muslim religious minorities that had entered India after escaping persecution in Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan before December 2014. The law has been condemned by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the basis of its purposeful Muslim exclusion; the Commissioner was quoted as proclaiming the law ‘fundamentally discriminatory.’ CAA has also been publicly denounced by the international community for its violation of India’s commitment to social egalitarianism. In 2019, the Modi government revoked the special constitutional status of Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir, a long-disputed predominantly Muslim area of India’s northern Himalayan region. The move depleted the region of its autonomy and cast millions of Kashmiris into chaos. BJP authorities have also carried out a campaign of suppression against Kashmiris, using great military force to silence any dissidence. The BJP is quick to label Kashmiri disputants as radical terrorists employed by Pakistan, castigating non-Hindus as enemies of the state conspiring to bring down the BJP. As such, Kashmir has become one of the most militarized areas of the world. 

This bleak moment in India’s history epitomizes Modi’s governance as a religious authoritarian, framing minority groups as an enemy of the state to corral political power. Modi’s government has strayed far from a rules-based order and even further from New Delhi’s commitment to an unwaveringly egalitarian society. The BJP’s repugnance of India’s minorities only inflames long standing religious tensions in Kashmir and India’s northern regions, meaning New Delhi’s polarized society will be strained for the foreseeable future, likely to spillover into further violence. Modi’s legitimization of xenophobia is a pointed majoritarian effort to eradicate Muslims from Indian society for a populist electoral victory; such recalcitrant behavior demands that the international community rebuke the BJP for its crackdown on minority rights and purposeful isolation of social groups from the status quo. Modi’s wanton Muslim marginalization is deliberate, thrusting India into a period of profound fragmentation.

Joshua Bowes is a Research Associate with The Millennium Project’s South Asia Foresight Network (SAFN) in Washington, D.C. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. 

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