(Bloomberg) -- India’s former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh criticized Narendra Modi’s comments on the election campaign trail as divisive and urged voters to cast their ballots against his “despotic regime.”

“No prime minister in the past has uttered such hateful, unparliamentary and coarse terms, meant to target either a specific section of the society or the opposition,” Singh wrote in an open letter released by the Indian National Congress, the country’s main opposition party, on Thursday. Singh retired from politics in March, with the ex-prime minister rarely making direct attacks against Modi.

Singh, 91, was the country’s leader in a Congress-led government for a decade until 2014, when Modi swept to power with his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. Critics have accused Modi of using anti-Muslim language on the campaign trail this year, fueling communal tensions. Modi and the BJP have denied the allegations.

“In the impending last phase of voting, we have one final chance to ensure that democracy and our constitution are protected from the repeated assaults of a despotic regime, trying to unleash dictatorship in India,” Singh wrote in the letter, which was released in English and Punjabi languages. 

The northern Indian state of Punjab goes to the polls in the final round of India’s elections on June 1. Nationwide results are due to be released on June 4.

Shazia Ilmi, a spokesperson for the BJP, dismissed Singh’s comments, saying Modi has been “vilified, abused and demonized and has had expletives used against him in a way never done in Indian politics.”

Singh, the architect of India’s economic reforms in 1991 when he was finance minister, also criticized the economic track record of the BJP-led government, highlighting issues of joblessness, wage disparities and falling farmer incomes. 

Modi has been campaigning this week in Punjab state, where as recently as February, farmer protests had erupted again. Singh accused Modi of failing to fulfill his promise to double farmers’ income. 

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.