Falsehoods and anti-Muslim rhetoric gain credence in BJP leaders’ poll speeches

Falsehoods and anti-Muslim rhetoric gain credence in BJP leaders’ poll speeches

By: ilma hasan&
April 25 2024

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Falsehoods and anti-Muslim rhetoric gain credence in BJP leaders’ poll speeches

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Source: Reuters)

At an election rally in the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh on Tuesday, April 23, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath accused (archive here) the opposition Congress party of appeasement politics and said, “If you look at Congress' manifesto, they say that if we form the government, we will implement Sharia law.” Alluding to the mention of personal laws, he reiterated his argument. 

He also referred to a statement made by the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and said, “Then prime minister had said that Muslims have the first right on the resources of the country. So where will our Dalits, backward, poor, farmers, women, and youth go?”

Adityanath’s comment comes after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (archive here) made similar claims at an election rally in the North Indian state of Rajasthan on April 21. He, too, referred to the same comment and added, “When they (the Congress) were in power, they said that Muslims had the first right on the country’s wealth. This means they would collect the wealth and give it to whom? The ones who have more children. They will give it to the infiltrators.”

He added that the Congress manifesto says the party will take away the gold that mothers and sisters possess and distribute it. Modi’s speech catapulted the rhetoric commonly used to target the community.

Screenshot 2024-04-25 at 11.52.42 AM

Screenshots of posts being shared on X claiming Hindu women’s jewelry will be taken. (Source: X/Screenshot)

We take a look at how most of these claims are rooted in misinformation. 

On implementing Sharia Law

The Uttar Pradesh chief minister’s allegations of the Congress imposing ‘Sharia Law’ are misleading. We went through the party manifesto in English and Hindi and found no mention of implementing the ‘Sharia Law’ in the country if voted to power.

On page 8 of the manifesto, in the section titled "Religious and Linguistic Minorities", the manifesto makes two references to personal laws i.e. faith-based rules relating to marriage, divorce, adoption, and inheritance. 

First, the manifesto says, "Congress will ensure that, like every citizen, minorities have the freedom of choice of dress, food, language and personal laws." Second, it says that the Congress will "encourage reform of personal laws", which is to happen with "the participation and consent of the communities concerned."

There is no reference to Muslim personal law or ‘Sharia Law’ even in this section. The first promise regarding personal law is a guarantee that minorities will have the same right to personal laws as all citizens of the country. 

In India, there are no universal laws that set out the rules for marriage, divorce, adoption, and inheritance. People from different religions are entitled to follow their personal laws on these issues. This is consistent with Article 14 of the Constitution, which grants equal protection to all citizens, including the right to personal laws, which is tied to the fundamental right to practice one's religion.

For Hindus, this means the legislations brought in the 1950s to codify Hindu personal law, including the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 and the Hindu Succession Act 1956. These laws also allow for distinct traditions of specific communities like Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains. For Christians, the relevant personal laws are the Indian Christian Marriage Act 1872, the Divorce Act 1869, and the Indian Succession Act 1925.

For Muslims, their personal law comes from the Quran and other religious sources. Islamic religious tradition includes the idea of "Shariat" or 'Sharia Law', but in India, this is only applicable when it comes to issues of personal law. Under the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act 1937 (which remains in force today), Shariat rules when the following issues are raised between two Muslims:

  • Intestate succession
  • Special property of females
  • Marriage and dissolution of marriage, including talaq (divorce), ila, zihar, lian, khula and mubaraat
  • Maintenance and dower
  • Guardianship
  • Gifts, trusts and trust properties, and wakfs (other than charities and charitable institutions and charitable and religious endowments)

The Indian judiciary can review these laws in the context of fundamental rights violations. This has led to amendments to the Hindu Succession Act to ensure parity of female descendants and the striking down of divorce among Muslims by 'triple talaq'. 

In summary, under the Indian legal system, personal laws of all religions are recognised and applied when it comes to issues of marriage, divorce, succession, and adoption.

On wealth distribution

While the party manifesto has no mention of it, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi did promise a financial and an institutional survey. He said, “We will conduct an X-ray of the country, things will become clear. Backward classes, Dalits, Adivasis, people of the weaker general class, and minorities will come to know what their share in this country is. After this, we will do a financial and institutional survey. We will find out who all and what section of people hold India’s wealth. After this historic step, we will take revolutionary measures. What is your right, we will ensure we get it for you.”

Meanwhile, the manifesto highlights wealth inequality and what the party will do to address it. In the section titled, “Economy”, the manifesto states that it will “address the growing inequality of wealth and income through suitable changes in policies.” 

The party has also promised to empower the minorities economically and said that it will “ensure that banks will provide institutional credit to minorities without discrimination.” Another action point focuses on providing fair share of opportunities to minorities in education, healthcare, public employment without discrimination.

On former prime minister’s remark 

Modi and Adiyanath also referred to Manmohan Singh’s speech at the meeting of the National Development Council in 2006. While speaking about uplifting backward classes, Scheduled Caste, other minority groups, women, and children, he had said, “The component plans for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes will need to be revitalized. We will have to devise innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the Muslim minority, are empowered to share equitably in the fruits of development. They must have the first claim on resources.”

Even back then the remark was highlighted by media and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was in opposition, to suggest that the ruling Congress was appeasing the community. As a result, Singh’s office issued a clarification that the speech referred to all “priority areas”, including programmes for the upliftment of SCs, STs, OBCs, women and children, and minorities.

When it comes to addressing vulnerable communities, perhaps Singh mentioned Muslims as they fared poorly on various socio-economic indicators when the comment was made. A 2006 government-mandated Sachar Committee Report found “By and large, Muslims rank somewhat above SC/ST but below Hindu OBCs [Other Backward Classes], Other Minorities and Hindu General [mostly upper castes] in almost all indicators considered.” 

A 2010 survey by the National Council of Applied Economic Research in India also found that Muslims were more likely to live below the poverty line at 31 percent compared to the Indian population at 26 percent. An analysis by The Hindu shows that while the gap between the share of Muslims who did not go to school compared to other religious groups had narrowed over the years, the community continued to be the lowest to complete high school education.

On growing population or ‘having more children’

While the total fertility rate (TFR) among the Muslim community is the highest, it has seen the sharpest decline over two decades, according to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), conducted by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, released in 2022. 

The fertility rate among Muslims between 2015 to 2016 and 2019 to 2021 dropped from 2.6 to 2.3. Among Hindus, the fertility rate has dropped from 2.1 in to 1.94 in the same period. The TFR for Christians stood at 1.8, the Sikh community at 1.6, and Buddhists/Neo-Buddhists were the lowest at 1.39.


Experts point out that a fertility rate is a result of non-religious factors such as literacy, employment, and income. Further, the data shows that the use of ‘any method’ of contraception amongst the Muslim women increased from 45.3 percent between 2015-2016 to 60.2 percent between 2019-2021. 

While a delayed census has furthered narratives of a growing Muslim population, Pew Research projected Muslim population to be about 15 percent — a marginal 0.8 percent rise from the last conducted census in 2011. According to the report, the Hindu population was estimated at 79 percent, a 0.8 percent decline from the last census. Government projections based on the 2011 percentage estimated a rise in the Indian Muslim population from 17.22 crore in 2011 to 19.75 crore in 2023.

On infiltration

Claims of more Muslims directly coincide with allegations of “infiltrators” entering India — similar to what Modi echoed in his speech. But there is no data backing the claim that tens of millions of immigrants have moved to India illegally.

Infact, the United Nations Population Division said that as of 2019, less than eight million people from Bangladesh — from where Rohingya refugees are accused of “infiltrating” — legally or illegally reside in all other countries, of which around three million are thought to reside in India. The numbers are starkly different from the estimates shared popularly.

After an initial response of “no comment” on Modi’s speech, India’s poll body is reportedly looking into the comments made by the prime minister. However, his remarks have kickstarted a series of narratives targeting Muslims.

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