India: BJP's election videos targeting Muslims and opposition spark outrage

Congress files complaints after PM Modi's party shares videos, accusing the opposition party of giving disproportionate benefits to Muslims

By Reuters

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Children wearing masks of Narendra Modi attend an election campaign rally in Anand. — Reuters
Children wearing masks of Narendra Modi attend an election campaign rally in Anand. — Reuters

Published: Mon 6 May 2024, 7:08 PM

Animated videos shared by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party targeting opposition Congress and the Muslim community have evoked complaints and outrage, as the political climate in India heats up midway through its six-week long election.

The videos, shared by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party on social media platforms Instagram and X over the last 10 days, depict the Congress giving disproportionate benefits to India's minority Muslim community, at the cost of certain disadvantaged tribal and Hindu caste groups.

The Congress, in a complaint to the poll watchdog Election Commission, said on Sunday that the video has been shared "clearly with an intention to wantonly provoke rioting and promote enmity between different religions".

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A set of guidelines mutually adopted by political parties for how they should conduct themselves during the election period prohibit them from creating "mutual hatred" between caste, religious or linguistic groups.

Manipulated videos on social media have also become a contentious issue in this election, such as fake videos showing top Bollywood stars criticising the prime minister.

On Monday, the commission warned parties against the misuse of AI tools to create deep fakes and told them not to publish and circulate such videos. It also said parties had been directed to remove such content within three hours of it being brought to their notice.

Modi, the face of the Hindu-nationalist BJP, seeking a rare third consecutive term, had focused his campaign largely on his government's performance on economic growth and welfare benefits.

But he changed tack after the first phase of voting on April 19 and his campaign speeches have since become more polarising on religious lines, accusing Congress of planning to redistribute the wealth of the majority Hindus among minority Muslims, who he called "infiltrators" who have "more children".

The videos shared by the BJP over the last 10 days, one of which has since been taken down, illustrated the same message.

A 17-second video shared by a state unit of BJP on May 4, with over 8.5 million views, shows a character resembling Congress leader Rahul Gandhi feeding "funds" to a bird in a skullcap, which eventually pushes out from their common nest three other birds representing other disadvantaged groups.

The Congress has filed a police complaint against BJP leaders for the video, BJP's head of information and technology Amit Malviya said on X.

"The Congress should in fact thank the BJP for taking their manifesto to the people in a manner that even they couldn’t," he wrote.

The video has elicited outrage. Nitasha Kaul, a politics professor at London's Westminster University said on X that the video was a "straightforward 1930s Germany style cartoon".

In its manifesto for the elections, the Congress has promised to tackle India's economic inequality by conducting a socio-economic caste census and extending affirmative action. It said it will ensure that minorities receive "their fair share" of education, economic and healthcare opportunities.

An Election Commission spokesperson, the BJP's Malviya and Congress spokespersons did not respond to requests seeking comment.


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