Modi’s Rhetorical Shift: Examining the Absence of Muslim References in PM’s Recent Speeches

Atika Sayeed,

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent public addresses have notably steered clear of any mention of Muslims, a departure from his past rhetoric where Muslim-related topics featured intermittently. This shift warrants thorough examination due to its potential implications for India’s democratic landscape.

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During Modi’s previous electoral campaigns, he frequently employed divisive language that portrayed Muslims as a privileged minority group. This strategy aimed to consolidate support from other vulnerable communities by fostering a sense of marginalization, despite the availability of ample resources and opportunities. However, in his current speeches, a noticeable shift away from this approach is evident.

Following the announcement of the Lok Sabha election results, his rhetoric has increasingly focused on the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) rather than emphasizing his personal role. During a recent NDA Parliamentary Party meeting on June 7, he referenced the alliance 60 times across four speeches, markedly reducing mentions of himself in the third person.

This stands in contrast to his earlier campaign rallies, where he frequently referred to himself in the third person alongside phrases like the “Modi government” or “Modi ki guarantee”, amounting to 29 mentions in just four speeches.

This shift in language underscores the evolving political landscape, where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) increasingly leans on its NDA partners following an election outcome that did not secure an independent majority. After the 2019 elections, in which the BJP won 303 seats, Modi predominantly focused on his party in his victory speech, mentioning the alliance only three times.

However, in recent addresses to party workers, acknowledging the BJP’s reduced strength to around 240 seats, he mentioned ‘BJP’ seven times and ‘NDA’ 16 times.

He refrained from discussing Muslims during his reelection speech, having secured another term with fewer votes than previously. During the campaign, he often portrayed Muslims in India as a group benefiting from special privileges compared to economically disadvantaged communities.

The ruling party’s manifesto heavily relied on “Modi ki guarantee”, a phrase frequently used by the prime minister in numerous public addresses. However, following the election results, he has phased out this phrase and now emphasizes the “guarantee” provided by the NDA instead.

In his first speech after the election results, Modi referred to his second term on June 4, stating, “The second term of the NDA has been transformed into a guarantee of development and legacy in 2024. With this guarantee, we reached every corner of the country to seek the blessings of the people. Today, the NDA has been blessed for the third time.”

He also shifted the strategic focus to the NDA, a theme initially emphasized by Union Home Minister Amit Shah in his victory speech in 2019. He acknowledged his senior colleagues in the BJP before extending gratitude to NDA allies for their contributions to the success.

Contrary to earlier approaches, Modi highlighted the alliance at the outset of his June 4 speech, celebrating the outcomes as a victory for the NDA. Specifically, he praised the performance of the Janata Dal (United) led by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party as critical allies in sustaining the government at the Centre.

In his speech at the NDA Parliamentary Party meeting on June 7, Modi once again highlighted Naidu and Kumar. During the event, he emphasized the importance of consensus over mere majority.

“While a majority is essential for governments based on democratic principles, consensus is equally crucial in a diverse country like ours. I assure the citizens that regardless of electoral outcomes, our responsibility remains to strive towards consensus,” he stated.

Another notable shift in his post-election addresses is a significant reduction in self-referential rhetoric. In the four rallies he addressed in Hoshiarpur (Punjab), Mayurbhanj and Kendrapara (Odisha) and Mathurapur (West Bengal) leading up to the campaign’s conclusion on May 30, he referred to himself in the third person 29 times.

He made 12 self-references in Kendrapara alone, attributing their party’s success to himself, stating, “The greater number of BJP MLAs elected leads to Modi gaining more power.”

Since the election results on June 4, Modi has addressed people four times: at the party headquarters, at the NDA Parliamentary Party meeting, at a media briefing the same day while staking claim to form the government and at the Prime Minister’s Office on June 10. His self-references were limited to his speech at the party headquarters.

Addressing party workers, Modi acknowledged their hard work and dedication in the sweltering weather, which fueled his own efforts. He emphasized working 18 hours daily, matching their tenacity and envisioned a collective effort towards India’s development. He promised that his third term would usher in significant decisions for the nation, marking a new era of progress.

In his election campaign, he repeatedly alleged, without substantiation, that the Opposition’s INDIA bloc would transfer reservations allocated to Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Other Backward Class (OBC) to Muslims if they came to power. He also criticized states governed by the Opposition for including Islamic communities under the OBC category, a practice he claimed has been ongoing for decades.

Post-election, Modi has refrained from making explicit references to Muslims, while BJP’s allies have been more vocal on this issue. Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party indicated its commitment to maintaining the 4% reservation for Muslim OBCs in Andhra Pradesh, while Janata Dal (United) affirmed it would not support any anti-Muslim initiatives.

In summary, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has recently adopted a nuanced shift in his communication strategy, demonstrating his adeptness in navigating the complex modern political landscape. This evolving communication approach blends traditional rhetoric with contemporary methods of message dissemination, reflecting a deep understanding of India’s ever-changing political and social dynamics.

The key driver behind this transformation is his adeptness at crafting messages that resonate across all segments of society, leveraging socio-cultural symbols and historical events amplified through technology. His communication channels include public speeches, where he blends emotional narratives with deliberate ambiguity to broaden his appeal and subtly advance his agenda.

Modi emerges as a unifying figure capable of bridging ideological divides, fostering national cohesion and positioning himself at the forefront of shared national goals and progress.

Furthermore, Modi effectively harnesses technology to revolutionize political communication, leveraging various platforms to circumvent traditional information barriers. Direct engagement through social networks enables him to communicate directly with millions, bypassing intermediaries like publishers. This direct approach not only broadens his support base but also allows him to swiftly counter any criticisms, solidifying his influence over public opinion.

The prime minister’s shift in tone also reflects his deep understanding of global dynamics and India’s evolving role on the world stage. By linking domestic issues with international concerns such as economic growth, environmental protection and technological advancements, Modi strategically positions India as a forward-thinking and knowledgeable global player. This alignment not only enhances India’s international image but also reinforces trust and confidence among local citizens in his leadership abilities.

Furthermore, Modi strategically employs symbolic gestures during his public addresses to create impactful and memorable moments. Whether through large-scale events or symbolic actions, these gestures serve to amplify his messages and solidify his standing in the public consciousness.

This underscores that Modi’s current communication strategy goes beyond mere persuasion; it aims to craft a cohesive narrative that supports his broader political objectives. By shaping this narrative, he influences public perception, electoral outcomes and strengthens his support base.

It is crucial to acknowledge that this intricate rhetorical strategy faces criticism, with some arguing that the emphasis on spectacle and symbolism can overshadow substantive policy discussions, raising concerns about effective governance. Additionally, his meticulously planned communication style prompts questions about his genuine engagement with the public versus mere pretense.

In conclusion, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s current communication tactics represent a significant and nuanced evolution in political rhetoric. By blending traditional methods with contemporary approaches, focusing on inclusivity and unity, leveraging digital platforms and maintaining consistent local and global communication, he has crafted a formidable conversational style. This strategy not only enhances his personal stature within Indian politics but also sets a benchmark for contemporary political communication.

As India navigates its complex socio-political landscape, the impact and evolution of Modi’s speaking style will undoubtedly be closely scrutinized by analysts.