PM Narendra Modi ups ante amid row over communal pitches | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

PM Narendra Modi ups ante amid row over communal pitches

By, Jaipur
Apr 24, 2024 04:48 AM IST

PM Modi accuses Congress of trying to redistribute wealth & reservation benefits to Muslims. Congress denies, calls it hate speech.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi doubled down on his charges that the Congress intended to redistribute both wealth and reservation benefits to Muslims on Tuesday, reiterating comments first made on Sunday, that have caused a political firestorm over the past two days. Follow full coverage of the Lok Sabha elections here.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a public meeting for the second phase of the Lok Sabha elections, in Tonk-Sawai Madhopur on Tuesday.(ANI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a public meeting for the second phase of the Lok Sabha elections, in Tonk-Sawai Madhopur on Tuesday.(ANI)

In Tonk, at his last scheduled rally in Rajasthan which has 13 of its 25 seats going to the polls in the second phase of Lok Sabha elections on April 26 (12 voted in the first phase), Modi referred to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s comments in 2006, in which he had said that the minorities, particularly Muslims, should have first claim over the country’s resources, and said that this was not an isolated comment, but part of a larger Congress policy thought process. “After the Congress formed the government in 2004, one of the first things it did was to try and snatch the reservation of SC, ST and OBC and give it to Muslims… this was a pilot project that Congress wanted to try out in the entire country. Between 2004 and 2010, the Congress tried four times to implement Muslim reservation in Andhra Pradesh but due to legal obstacles and an alert Supreme Court, the Congress plan failed,” said Modi.

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The Congress has alleged that the BJP is deliberately misconstruing Manmohan Singh’s comments, and the then Prime Minister had only spoken of the need to empower the marginalised, including Muslims.

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Opposition political parties have accused the Prime Minister of communalising the Lok Sabha campaign, with a Congress delegation meeting the Election Commission of India on Monday to argue that his utterances were a violation of the Model Code of Conduct. Speaking at the rally in Tonk on Tuesday, however, Modi said that the Congress had made such attempts in the past, and alleged that the opposition had gone into “meltdown”, because he had exposed the truth.

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister also alleged that in Karnataka, the Congress had attempted to snatch the reservation benefits to SC, ST and OBC communities. “The Congress made all these attempts knowing well that this is against the spirit of the Constitution but it is not bothered… they do not bother about Babasaheb Ambedkar. When the BJP came to power in Karnataka, the first thing we did was to end the Muslim quota which the Congress had carved out of the SC, ST, OBC reservation and restored it to the SC, ST, OBC. This made Congress livid. Modi understands the Constitution, Modi is dedicated to the Constitution, Modi worships Babsaheb Ambedkar,” he said.

Between 2004 and 2007, three separate attempts by the Andhra Pradesh government to provide 4% quota benefits up to backward class Muslims were repelled by the state high court. The high court quashed an ordinance issued in 2005 and subsequently a statute, called Andhra Pradesh Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes of Muslims Act, 2007, was also nixed. The high court, while setting aside the state law in February 2010, also quashed a 2007 Government Order allocating 4% reservation to Muslim groups in educational institutions and jobs. After the state approached the Supreme Court, the top court issued an interim order on March 25, 2010, stating that reservation could be extended first to the 14 categories mentioned in the 2007 Act. On same day, the court also referred to a Constitution bench all the petitions contesting the high court’s decision to nullify the ordinance and the ensuing statute, which are still pending.

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In Karnataka, the 4% other backward classes (OBC) quota for Muslims is currently in force despite an endeavour by the previous BJP government to scrap it through a government order (GO) in March 2023. After a bundle of petitions challenged the then Basavaraj Bommai-led BJP government’s GO that sought to distribute Muslims’ 4% quota equally to two dominant communities — Veerashaiva-Lingayats and Vokkaligas, the state government had on April 25, 2023, and May 9, 2023, made a statement before the top court that it will not implement the GO without the court’s permission and that the “earlier regime” will continue to hold the field. By virtue of a notification in March 2002, Muslims in Karnataka can make applications before the state authorities for benefits under the 4% quota notified for them. This case has not come up for hearing in the top court after August 4, 2023. Following the state’s assembly election in May 2023, Congress regained power in the state.

Modi’s comments came a day after the opposition attacked him for his comments, calling it an example of hate speech. Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said on X on Monday, “What Modi ji said is not only a hate speech but also a well thought out ploy to divert attention... The 140 crore people of the country are no longer going to fall prey to this lie. Our manifesto is for every Indian. It talks about equality for all… In the history of India, no Prime Minister has lowered the dignity of his post as much as Modiji has,” Kharge said.

They also a came a day after he seemed to be making an effort to reach out to Muslims in a rally in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh. He discussed how his government closely engaged with Saudi Arabia to increase the Haj quota from India, simplified the visa process for pilgrims, and liberalised the norms for women undertaking Haj. He spoke about the ban on triple talaq as an action that empowered Muslim women and the efforts to improve the lot of Pasmanda (socially and economically backward) Muslims.

On Monday, a Congress delegation led by Abhishek Singhvi, submitted to ECI that Modi’s speech was “illegal” and accused the BJP of repeatedly using religious iconography in its Lok Sabha campaign. The Model Code of Conduct, a voluntary set of guidelines that all political parties have adhered to since 1960, states, “No party or candidate shall indulge in any activity which may aggravate existing differences or create hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic.”

Officials in the EC on Tuesday said that the poll panel has received Congress’s complaint which is currently under consideration.

RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav on Monday asked the Prime Minister to focus on “real issues” and appealed to him to quit the politics of hate. “The country’s youngsters, the elderly, traders, farmers, women and all sections have one issue — poverty, inflation, unemployment and a poor economy.”

But Modi pressed on in Tonk on Tuesday, and said he had put the “truth” before people. “The Congress has a ploy to snatch property from people and distribute it to its special people. I exposed this vote bank politics, this appeasement politics and it led to a meltdown in the Congress and its ecosystem. They are now abusing me. I want to ask the Congress why it is scared of the truth, and why is it hiding its policy decision? You made the policy, you took these decisions and when Modi exposed your hidden agenda, you are panicking. Own your decision if you have the courage,” he said.

He added: “Amid these conspiracies by the Congress, Modi is giving you a guarantee from this public platform that SC, ST, OBC reservation will not be ended nor will it be divided on the basis of religion. This is Modi’s guarantee.”

Referring to the Congress manifesto, Modi said that he had exposed the parties plan to redistribute wealth “A Congress leader said in a speech that they will do an X ray. Your boxes and walls will be searched and any extra assets you have kept, will be taken by the government and will be redistributed. Does the ‘hand’ have so much strength that it can snatch your streedhan, your mangalsutra? Not even one ‘hand’ should remain in Rajasthan,” he said, referring to the Congress poll symbol.

The Congress however hit back at the Prime Minister’s speech, with Congress spokesperson and general secretary of the Rajasthan Congress Swarnim Chaturvedi alleging that Modi was deviating from core issues and spreading misinformation. “Modi is afraid of the BJP’s impending loss. The Congress has promised a caste census to ensure every community gets its due share in proportion to their population. Modi has stopped talking about his guarantees and is trying to create polarisation,” he said.

Chaturvedi said that the Congress manifesto had promised to end economic inequality. “In Modi’s regime, the divide between the rich and the poor has grown. The Congress wants to ensure everyone benefits from the country’s resources.”

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    Urvashi Dev Rawal is assistant editor with Hindustan Times Rajasthan edition and is based in Jaipur. She reports on politics, development journalism and women’s issues. She has reported from Delhi and Gujarat previously.

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