Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent speech where he accused the Congress and Samajwadi Party of “conspiring with South India’s leaders to insult the Sanatan Dharma” has invoked sharp reactions across the country. Scholars have said that he has resorted to hate and divide politics.

On May 16, PM Modi who was addressing rallies in Uttar Pradesh accused the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Congress for allying with South Indian forces who hurl insults at the people of Uttar Pradesh.

“In these polls, India has two models. On one side, it’s Modi, the BJP and the NDA whose path is ‘santushtikaran’ (satisfaction). On the other side, it is the SP, Congress and the ‘ghamandiya’ (arrogant) alliance; their path is ‘tushtikaran’ (appeasement).

“The playbook of the SP and the Congress is dangerous. They seek votes here and while in south India, when their partners use absurd and abusive language for the people of U.P. and Sanatana Dharma, they remain silent,” the Prime Minister said.

He added that the Opposition I.N.D.I.A. bloc “will find it difficult to win even a single seat in UP”, India’s largest and most politically significant state.

“I promise to build a developed India, and the growth engine of developed India will be Purvanchal, eastern India. The region is becoming a powerful centre of health and education. In the next five years, Modi-Yogi is going to change both the image and the fate of Purvanchal,” PM Modi said, referring to UP Chief Minister Adityanath.

Soon after the speech, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. K. Stalin charged at the PM stating that Modi’s “hatred, communal campaign” had failed to favour the BJP in these elections.

“Mr. Modi has unleashed an imaginative hatred campaign and a bundle of lies. It is the BJP that made use of YouTubers such as Manish Kashyap to serve their agenda and spread fake news that migrant workers were being attacked,” Stalin said in a statement.

“Mr Modi is depressed since the hatred campaigns had failed to favor the BJP and since he had nothing to boast about the achievements of the 10-year rule of his government, he had resorted to denigrating the welfare schemes of the States ruled by opposition parties. He has proved that he is always against the poor,” Stalin added.

The Tamil Nadu CM said that Modi has resorted to “hate campaigns on a daily basis” since was afraid of the ground gained by the I.N.D.I.A. bloc and its victory in the Lok Sabha polls. “People are shocked and pained since the Election Commission, which has a duty to restrain the Prime Minister, remains silent,” Stalin said.

However, according to V. Ramkumar, former Deputy General Manager, State Bank of India, who considers himself a deeply religious person, said that it is imperative for the PM to counter the “criticism against Sanatan Dharma” that he claimed was coming from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).

“In fact, the Prime Minister will be doing a big disservice to Sanatan Dharma by not attacking its critics,” Ramkumar said.

Referring to Modi's speech in Uttar Pradesh, he said that while people in the North have no problem in practising their religion, in Tamil Nadu “ministers like Udaynidhi, or Stalin criticise the Hindu Dharma with impunity without anybody questioning them” Ramkumar said.

At the same time, he added that this is election time. And, such speeches remain time bound. Accordingly, "one should not blame the Prime Minister for such speeches."

Meanwhile, Dr Sandeep Shastri, a political scientist, Pro Vice Chancellor of Jain University and Director of its Centre for Research in Social Sciences and Education (CERSSE) said that the PM is choosing his words to attract voters.

“He is speaking in UP and seeking to drum up support in that state. The entire South has already voted. Also, no possibilities of any consequences there. Also, it aims at attacking the Congress and its alliance which is a key opponent in UP. This is a past strategy he has used in the past,” Shastri said.

Prof. Muzafar Assadi, former Dean of Mysuru University was of the view, however, that the narrative seems to be changing now from the Muslim factor to the ‘North-South divide’.

“The development was highly dangerous, especially as it could impact federalism in the country,” Assadi said while recalling what used to happen in Mumbai in the 70s and early 80s when the Shiv Sena used to target migrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh besides chasing out people running Udupi restaurants in the city.

He also recalled the call by former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh N. T. Rama Rao, to emphasise “Telugu pride”, a few decades ago.

This apart, the professor expressed concern that “after pitting the Muslims against the OBCs and other backward classes, we are now trying to divide people from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and the South,” adding that it was not a good augury for Indian federalism.

Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah also expressed his disappointment. Taking to ‘X’ he wrote, “Just because the elections in Southern States are over, an ungrateful @PMOIndia is now trying to divide South and North Indians by targeting people from Southern States.

“We consider Karnataka as the daughter of India. India has never discriminated [against] anyone, but people like Modi spew venom. We have a symbiotic relationship with people from every State and we are proud of that.”

Prof Ajay Gudavarthy, who teaches at Jawaharlal Nehru University and is the son of Hyderabad based human rights activist Prof G. Haragopal, also averred that the PM is trying to create a South North divide in politics.

“Provocation and veiled comments have been the standard methods of Mr. Modi, since the days he referred in an oblique way, comparing Muslims to puppies getting crushed under the car tires. The sentiments of Insult, insecurity and humiliation are routinely weaponised.

“It could be about an assumed insult to Bajrang Bali ir the insecurity of Congress attempting to secede Karnataka from India. Most of these are not working on the ground. The question is what else will be fabricated in the remaining phases of the election?,” Gudavarthy said.