“Vote Jihad” – The continued weaponization of a ‘jihadi’ narrative to disenfranchise Indian Muslims

  1. Home
  2. Digital Watch
  3. “Vote Jihad” – The continued weaponization of a ‘jihadi’ narrative to disenfranchise Indian Muslims

Just days before India’s elections end, we are sounding the alarm bells on how India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allied organizations have persistently, in violation of Indian electoral law, used disinformation narratives to ‘otherize’ and demonize Indian Muslims.

Our new report examines how political actors – including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP’s official Facebook account with 19 million followers – seek to justify the erasure of Muslims’ democratic rights as Indian citizens.

Political candidates as well as their supporters have perpetuated a climate of fear and distrust against religious minorities, particularly Indian Muslims, which is bound to leave a lasting impact in a country plagued by religiously motivated vigilante violence.

– says Dr Umair Ullah Khan, member of the supervisory board of Foundation The London Story.

Earlier in May, a hate speech by Modi warning about “Vote Jihad” had made international headlines and drawn condemnation from around the world. Under India’s Representation of the People Act and the Model Code of Conduct for elections, explicit references to religion are prohibited from electoral campaigning. Modi’s speech spread a dangerous narrative that Muslims have launched a jihad against (his idea of) India during India’s elections, and that their democratic participation must be stopped.

The report shows that this speech is only the tip of the iceberg, as average citizens become exposed to a routinisation of Muslims being framed as enemies to the Indian nation. The researchers examined content posted by a sample of 812 Facebook pages and 15 Facebook groups between March 1 and May 10, 2024. In the random sample, they identified at least 21 posts in March and 33 posts in April that contained content seeking to promote enmity between Hindus and Muslims by promoting disinformation narratives. Notably, a significant amount of that content amplified speeches by Prime Minister Modi himself.

The report cautions that political outrage and denial of the Muslim right to vote through the ‘Vote Jihad’ narrative is a manifestation of wider trends within India. Similar prior Islamophobic narratives invoking ‘jihad’ – such as ‘Love Jihad’, ‘COVID-Jihad’, and ‘Land Jihad’ – have led to marginalization of and institutionalized violence against Indian Muslims. Additionally, these narratives have found their way into the regulatory systems and state legislative actions, which have institutionalized the othering of Indian Muslims by making laws impacting inter-faith marriages, encouraging cow-vigilantism, and leading to the demolition of Muslim homes.

What we see in India today is a teaser of what is to come. Similar narratives of ‘Muslims voting tactically against the Hindu majority’ have been weaponized before. This led to the exclusion of 1.9 million people from the citizenry in a single state within India – Assam. We are today sounding the alarm bells over the future of democratic participation in all of India.

– Dr Ritumbra Manuvie, Executive Director of Foundation The London Story, added.