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Campaign video targeting Muslims faces India police probe as critics accuse Modi’s party of divisive election tactics

By Rhea Mogul and Esha Mitra, CNN

(CNN) — Police in southern India are investigating a senior leader of the country’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over a political video targeting Muslims, as critics accuse Prime Minister Narendra Modi of running an increasingly divisive re-election campaign.

The police probe comes as the world’s most populous nation votes in a mammoth weeks-long election in which Modi’s Hindu-nationalist party is widely expected to secure a rare third consecutive term.

The party has long denied being anti-Islam but opposition politicians and prominent Muslims have warned that its leaders have been deploying openly divisive rhetoric to turbo-charge their campaign.

According to a police report seen by CNN on Tuesday, Karnataka state police are investigating whether local BJP leader B. Y. Vijayendra and the unnamed holder of the party’s official local X account “promoted enmity” between religious groups after the clip was posted online on May 4.

The 17-second animation depicts leaders of India’s main opposition Congress party giving benefits to Muslims, alongside a caption in the local Kannada language: “Beware… Beware… Beware…!”

It shows caricatures of Congress’s national leader Rahul Gandhi and its Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah feeding “funds” to a large bird wearing a Muslim skullcap, while giving nothing to three smaller birds portraying other marginalized minorities. The large bird then kicks the other birds out of their nest as the Congress politicians laugh.

The video was removed Wednesday after a request to X from India’s Election Commission to take it down.

CNN has reached out to Vijayendra, the BJP and X for comment.

Critics said Congress’ manifesto makes no mention of redistributing wealth to Muslims, while Congress lawmaker Manickam Tagore said the video was a “blatant demonization of minorities by ruling BJP,” and urged the Election Commission to address its “divisive tactics.”

Many of India’s more than 200 million Muslims have expressed fear at the prospect of Modi’s re-election, and critics said the video fits a pattern of openly Islamophobic rhetoric during the BJP’s campaign.

Last month, the BJP’s Instagram account published another animation that claimed the Congress planned to prioritize Muslims.

“If you are a non-Muslim, Congress will snatch your wealth and distribute it to Muslims,” said a voiceover in the clip, which has since been removed from Instagram.

That video echoed similar comments by Modi, who sparked a row over hate speech last month while campaigning in BJP-ruled Rajasthan state, when he accused Muslims – who have been present in India for centuries – of being “infiltrators” who deliberately have large families to outgrow the majority Hindu population.

Modi’s speech ignited widespread anger among Muslim leaders and opposition politicians and calls for election authorities to investigate. BJP party spokespeople subsequently said Modi was talking about undocumented migrants.

The election commission has asked the BJP to respond to the allegations.

In an interview with local broadcaster Times Now on Monday, Modi said the BJP is “not opposed to Islam and Muslims.”

But many Muslims were skeptical.

“This is not a dogwhistle, this is a targeted, direct, brazen hate speech against a community,” prominent Muslim journalist Rana Ayyub said in response to the speech.

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