A mass rally of Hindu nationalist groups has taken place in Mumbai, attended by several leading figures of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), demanding legislation against ‘love jihad,’ (forced conversion), and ‘land jihad’ (strategies to remove non-Muslims from the land). The protest was organised by Sakal Hindu Samaj, an umbrella group of Hindu organisations from across India, who began their “Hindu Jan Aakrosh Morcha” (Rally for Hindu People’s Fury) at 11:00 on Sunday morning, January 29th, marching four kilometres from Shivaji park—host to many famous rallies in Mumbai’s history—to the Kamgar Maidan grounds, where speeches were given.
Present were two BJP members of the Lok Sabha, India’s national assembly, Manoj Kotak and Gopal Shetty, both from Mumbai constituencies, and the latter a former president of the BJP’s Mumbai branch. Attendance had also been encouraged by Mangal Prabhat Lodha, a minister for the Maharashtra state government, which is responsible for India’s second most populous state of over 112 million people. Joined by several other BJP leaders from the state, Mumbai police stated that over 10,000 people had attended the rally.
At the conclusion of the march, Thakur Raja Singh, a Hindu nationalist firebrand, expelled from the BJP due to his remarks on the prophet Muhammad, spoke to the crowd. He called for a boycott of Muslim businesses by Hindus, and for the ban of products labelled ‘halal.’ According to Singh, “If the word halal is mentioned in any product, we demand that it not be purchased. … Why should we have rules that are meant for Islamic countries?” the Free Press Journal reports. Some attendees, speaking to Mid-Day, differed from Singh, saying, “We all want to be one. We have Muslim friends. We do not want the country to break up or sow divisions.” Raja Singh’s speech, however, moved in the opposite direction.
‘Love jihad’ is an ongoing topic of controversy in India. Labelled as a conspiracy theory by many analysts, it asserts that Muslim men in India feign love, seduce, and marry Hindu women with the object of forcing them to convert to Islam. Incidents like the recent murder of Hindu woman Shraddha Walkar, whose body was allegedly cut into 35 pieces by her Muslim boyfriend, have fueled enormous anger amongst Hindus. While there is scarce evidence to show that ‘love jihad’ is a systematic phenomenon, a poll by India Today showed that 53% of respondents believed Muslim men engage in it.
‘Land Jihad,’ also highly speculative, describes the phenomenon of Muslims using intimidation, illegal squatting and encroachment, and the illegal building of mosques to drive non-Muslims off their land. Both love- and land jihad are the key issues of the day for the Hindutva (Hindu Nationalist) movement, and are gaining a lot of currency in India.
With Prime Minister Modi’s BJP currently polling to receive a landslide in next year’s election, confronting these issues looks set to pay off, regardless of whether they are true or not.