CNN  — 

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of delivering Islamophobic remarks during an election rally Sunday, triggering widespread anger from prominent Muslims and members of the opposition.

The world’s most populous nation is in the midst of a mammoth weeks-long election in which Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is widely expected to secure a rare third consecutive term.

Speaking in front of a large crowd in the country’s western Rajasthan state, Modi said if voted into power, the country’s main opposition, the Indian National Congress, would distribute the country’s wealth among “infiltrators” and “those who have more children,” in apparent reference to the Muslim community.

“When they (the Congress) were in power, they said Muslims have first right over resources. They will gather all your wealth and distribute it among those who have more children. They will distribute among infiltrators,” Modi said to thunderous roars from the audience.

“Do you think your hard-earned money should be given to infiltrators? Would you accept this?” Modi said.

Those remarks have been seized on by the opposition, who have long accused Modi and the BJP of using divisive rhetoric to turbo-charge their increasingly popular brand of Hindu nationalism.

Opposition members have called on the Election Commission of India (ECI) to investigate whether Modi’s comments break the body’s code of conduct.

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India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking during a rally in Sydney, Australia, on May 23, 2023.
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Narendra Modi was born in 1950, three years after India's independence, to mother Hiraben and father Damodardas, a teaseller, in the western state of Gujarat. His entry into politics began at just eight years old when when he enrolled in classes at the local branch of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing organization that advocates for the supremacy of Hinduism in India
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As a teen, Modi traveled across India with the RSS and joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 1987, a then fringe political party which started gaining traction fueled by the rise of Hindu nationalism in India.
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Modi worked his way through the ranks of the BJP, establishing himself as a respected politician. Here he is pictured with the party's former general secretary in 1991.
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Modi and BJP founder Lal Krishna Advani place a garland around a statue of Indian nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose, in Ahmedabad, India on January 23, 1992.
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Narendra Modi, then BJP secretary is welcomed at Ahmedabad Railway Station by the party's followers on January 31, 1992.
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Narendra Modi with Lal Krishna Advani visits VS Hospital to meet victim of riot affected area, in Ahmedabad, India on June 6, 1992.
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Narendra Modi pictured in India on January 23, 1998.
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Modi was elected as chief minister of Gujarat introducing a wave of infrastructure, industry, and innovation to its arid landscape. But his tenure was not without controversy, with the 2002 Gujarat riots casting a long shadow over his legacy.
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Modi pictured during the International Kite Festival in Ahmadabad, India, on January 13, 2007.
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Modi governed the state of Gujarat for nearly 13 years, becoming among the BJP's most powerful politicians before setting his eyes on India's top seat. Pictured inside his residence in June 2013.
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Modi became the BJP's candidate for prime minister in the 2014 national election, proving a tough challenger for the then incumbent Indian National Congress. Here he is pictured after casting his vote at a polling station on April 30, 2014.
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Modi flashes the victory sign to supporters in the holy city of Varanasi, India, on May 8, 2014, toward the tail end of the 2014 election. The Congress, which had ruled India for most of its independence, went on to suffer its worst-ever performance.
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Modi seeks blessings from his 90-year-old mother, Hiraben, after preliminary results showed his party winning by a landslide, on May 16, 2014.
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Modi, India's 14th prime minister, took oath of office at the presidential palace in New Delhi, India, on May 26, 2014.
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Once banned from the United States for his alleged role in Gujarat's 2002 communal violence, Modi was embraced by Washington once be became India's leader. He addressed a crowd at Madison Square Garden during his visit to the United States on September 28, 2014.
With former US President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C., on September 30, 2014.
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Modi poses with Indian students during a visit to the French National Space Agency in Toulouse, France, on April 11, 2015.
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Modi performs yoga to mark the International Day of Yoga, in New Delhi, India, on June 21, 2015.
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Modi in the Chinese city of Xian on May 14, 2015. India and China's ties have deteriorated in more recent years, following a series of deadly border skirmishes.
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International business figures have also wooed India's leader at a time of impressive economic growth. Modi and Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg are pictured at the Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California, U.S., on September 27, 2015.
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Modi pictured in Pretoria, South Africa, on July 8, 2016, during a visit aimed at boosting ties in a region where rival China has a strong presence.
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With former German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, on May 30, 2017. The European Union is India's third largest trading partner.
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Modi hugs French President Emmanuel Macron after a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, on June 3, 2017.
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Modi waits for the arrival of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential palace, in New Delhi, India, on February 20, 2019.
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Modi won a second term in 2019, once again easily defeating India's fractured opposition. In this picture he can be seen campaigning in Varanasi, India, April 25, 2019.
During the BRICS summit with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Brasilia on November 14, 2019.
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Modi and with India's Home Secretary Amit Shah celebrate the BJP's roaring victory in the country's general election in New Delhi on May 23, 2019.
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With former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during the COP26 UN Climate Summit in Glasgow on November 2, 2021.
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India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi after addressing the nation from the New Delhi's historic Red Fort to mark the country's 75th Independence Day on August 15, 2022.
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With Australia's prime minister Anthony Albanese at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney, Australia, on May 23, 2023.
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India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on June 22, 2023.
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Modi offers a toast during a State Dinner with President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington, on June 22, 2023.
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South African President Paul Mashatile welcomes Modi ahead of the 15th BRICS summit in Pretoria, South Africa on August 22, 2023.
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Modi presides over the consecration of the grand Ram Mandir, built at the site of the destroyed 16th-century Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, India on January 22, 2024. This event was widely seen as a crowning achievement in Modi's decades-long campaign to pull India away from its constitutionally secular roots.
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India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi performs a Hindu ritual as he attends the inauguration of the BAPS Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 14, 2024.
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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he arrives at Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters in New Delhi, on June 4. Modi's victory makes him the first leader since India's founding Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to secure a third five-year term.

The code states politicians must not appeal to voters based on “caste” and “communal feelings.” Activity which “may aggravate differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension” between communities and religions, is also not allowed.

CNN has contacted the ECI for comment.

Modi received widespread backlash from members of the Muslim community for his comments at a time when many fear a third BJP term will deepen the communal fissures already running through the country.

“This is not a dogwhistle, this is a targeted, direct, brazen hate speech against a community,” prominent Muslim journalist Rana Ayyub wrote on X.

Muslim lawmaker and president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen, Asaduddin Owaisi, said: “Modi today called Muslims infiltrators and people with many children. Since 2002 till this day, the only Modi guarantee has been to abuse Muslims and get votes.”

Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge described Modi’s comments as “hate speech” and “a well thought out ploy to divert attention.”

“Today the prime minister did what he has learnt from the values of the Sangh,” referring to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) a right-wing Hindu paramilitary organization, which Modi was once a youth member of and to which the BJP is affiliated with. “In the history of India, no prime minister has lowered the dignity of his post as much as Modi has.”

Modi swept to power in 2014 on a promise of development and anti-corruption, rising in popularity during his term and getting re-elected five years later – the second time on a more openly Hindu nationalist ticket.

Over the last decade, Modi and his BJP have been accused of driving religious polarization with their Hindu nationalist policies, giving rise to a wave of Islamophobia and deadly communal clashes in the world’s largest secular democracy.

India’s minority Muslim population is enormous – some 230 million people – and Muslims have lived in what is now modern India for centuries. But a false conspiracy voiced by some Hindu nationalists is to accuse Muslims of being somehow outsiders and spreading a false narrative that they are displacing the country’s Hindu population by deliberately having large families.

The BJP has repeatedly said it does not discriminate based on religion and treats all citizens equally.

But research, reporting and rights groups say divisions have increased in the country of 1.4 billion people.

Anti-Muslim speech has risen dramatically, a recent report by the Washington-based research group India Hate Lab showed, which documented 668 such cases in 2023. Of these cases, 75% took place in BJP-ruled states, the report said.

India prohibits hate speech under several sections of its penal code, including a section which criminalizes “deliberate and malicious acts” intended to insult religious beliefs, but rights groups say there is a lack of immediate and adequate action against the alleged perpetrators of such acts, giving right-wing extremists tacit support.