India's Modi reported to Electoral Commission after referring to Muslims as 'infiltrators' during campaign speech

22 April 2024, 18:15 | Updated: 22 April 2024, 19:57

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing a widespread backlash after referring to Muslims as "infiltrators" during a campaign speech over the weekend. 

Congress, the main opposition party to Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on Monday reported the prime minister's "deeply objectionable" comments to the Election Commission, saying they violated electoral law.

The comments were made by the Hindu nationalist leader, who is seeking a rare third consecutive term since first being elected in 2014, during a speech on Sunday - just days after India's mammoth, seven-week election kicked off.

Almost a billion people across 21 states and territories are expected to cast their vote in the next 40 days, with results due on 4 June.

In his speech, Mr Modi said the Congress election manifesto promised to confiscate and redistribute the wealth of Indians, which it denies.

Mr Modi said if the party adhered to remarks in 2006 of then Congress Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that minority Muslims should have the "first claim on resources" to share in the fruits of development, then wealth would be distributed to "infiltrators" and those who have "more children".

Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said Mr Modi's "deeply objectionable" statement violated sections of the law that prohibits candidates from asking people to vote or refrain from voting for anyone on the grounds of "religion", "community" or "religious symbols".

Read more:
India elections: Can anyone beat Narendra Modi?
Thousands protest against India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi over arrest of his top political rival
How 2024's global elections will shape the world

He said he wanted the Electoral Commission "to state that this is the position in law".

Mr Modi's government has repeatedly been accused of discrimination against Muslims, with civil society, opposition groups, and some foreign governments raising concerns over decisions they say are aimed at fanning discrimination and keeping the BJP in power.

The government has denied all accusations, and Mr Modi has said he works for the betterment of all, including India's 200 million Muslims, who make up the world's third-largest Muslim population.

Mr Modi has promised a bright economic future for all - but many Muslims are yet to be convinced.

Voter Abdul, 56, said: "Earlier we used to live together, today we are all apart. Now elections are based on religion. This is wrong."