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Indian Christians fear more persecution as Narendra Modi wins the general election on the doctrine of Hindu Nationalism

Indian Christians fear more persecution as Narendra Modi wins the general election on the doctrine of Hindu Nationalism

By Joseph G Muthuraj, VOL Indian Correspondent
March 27, 2019

India has just finished counting some 800 million votes in its general election, with a coalition led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi winning a clear majority. The official data from the Election Commission showed Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has the 'Lotus' as its symbol, winning 303 of the 542 seats, up from the 282 it had won in 2014. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won a total of 351 seats, which means the people of India have given Narendra Modi a second term in office with a thumping majority despite his poor performance on the economic front, bad governance, and being unconcerned about Indian farmers and their problems, shielding the corrupt men who looted the banks through illegal loans, and doing virtually nothing to prevent attacks on religious minorities -- particularly on Christians.

The mighty Congress party led by Mahatma Gandhi from 1920 to gain independence for India was reduced to 52 seats -- its worst performance ever.

The voters were swayed by the use of religion and pompous religious observance by the Prime Minister to attract and influence the majority population. There was a code of conduct based on court orders that banned the parties from using religion and caste during their election propaganda towards political mobilisation. The Election Commission capitulated before the PM, even when his speeches and activities were seen clearly aimed to arouse the religious sentiments of the majority. The EC punished opposition leaders when they made reference to religion and caste in their election speeches, but it gave a clean chit to Modi whenever complaints were made about his highly polarizing divisive campaign conduct elevating the beliefs and practices of one particular religion.

Although there are no Census figures available based on religion, it is estimated that 80% of the population are Hindus, 14% are Muslims with Christians making up little over 3%. India is the place of origin for three faiths (Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism) beside Jainism, Zoroastrianism finding its roots in ancient and pluralistic India.

Euphoria gripped India and overseas in countries like Australia, UK, USA, Dubai and UAE over Modi's historic win. A business tycoon, Anand Mahindra of London, shared a video of ethnic Indians doing garba dancing (a traditional Gujarati folk dance) in a London subway apparently after Modi's victory. He tweeted that it is 'cultural colonialism in reverse'.

On Modi's victory, the UK's The Guardian in an editorial said, "It is bad news for India and the world."

The Los Angeles Timesopined, "that at a time when religious nationalism was on the rise across the globe, Modi has pushed India towards his vision of a Hindu nation where the religious minorities will be treated as second-class citizens and will be considered intruders within the Hindu Kingdom."

Modi's New India

Harish Menon has rightly observed that Modi, a polarising leader, has created in the last five years an India which consists of two sets of people: national and anti-national. You are either a patriot--a righteous defender of the government in New Delhi--or an anti-national, someone highly critical of the government. There is nothing in between. There has been a surge in hyper-nationalism in India that deems any critical view of the government--its ideology or its actions--is to be 'anti-national'.

Prof. Vasanthi Devi observed, "In the last four years, a new trend has emerged where stigmatisation is going on against university students and the campuses where the ruling establishment feel it is a place of the origin of dissent ... Indian universities are at a crossroads because the Hindutva project of education, as defined and interpreted by the ideologues of the Sangh Parivar, cannot be pursued under the present system. For the Government, education is an instrument of Hinduisation of society & polity.' She added, "... while stereotyping is a part of the Indian society, there is a new type of stereotype: anti-national. There are certain people who are taken to be naturally anti-national, for example the entire Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi campus, has been branded as the breeding ground of anti-nationals."

The Hindu nationalism of Modi sees Christians as incorrigibly anti-national as they are the products of Western missionaries who lured the Hindus to convert them to a foreign religion - Christianity. The term 'Christian' is now being used in a derisive manner, a word of abuse. Modi had exploited the 'long dormant rage' against India's colonial rulers in the name of religion. Why do Indian Christians have to take the blame for western colonial rule? Why do they have to be treated as objects of punishment for any excess committed during colonial days? The Hindu nationalists do not realise that what is followed in the fields of Law, Science, Education, Medicine are the heritages of the colonisers which the Hindus have willingly adopted. What is wrong with a few traces of their own religious establishment that they left behind? Why do Hindus go to the USA, Europe and rich Islamic countries seeking greener pastures, making more and more money?

The politics of right-wing Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) seeks to make the Indian state adopt policies that recall and glorify Hindu cultural history based on Brahmanicalism and the norms of caste system by demonising other religious communities. The Left parties in India which once had 59 members in the Parliament are now hopelessly reduced to five. It shows the dominance of right-wing religious fundamentalist thinking taking the centre stage in the Indian way of life.

The secularism of Gandhi and Nehru is fading away and right-wing nationalistic sentiments are getting planted in people's minds. The debate that brought shock waves to the electorates was the controversial Hindu ascetic and BJP leader (who was accused of plotting a bomb attack against Muslims in 2006), Pragya Thakur. He defeated an opposition Congress strongman by a big margin in the central city of Bhopal. She said a week before the election that Nathuram Godse, the killer of Mahatma Gandhi, was, is and will be a symbol of patriotism. Although the statement was condemned by Narendra Modi, the time when Gandhiji was celebrated as 'the father of the nation' is almost forgotten and Godse, a member of the RSS outfit who assassinated him is now placed on a pedestal of glory and solidly remembered, even venerated. This is the sign of a new India!

India is now colonised by an extremist patriotism that echoes the Hindutva principles and practices of Sangh Parivar and the RSS, the ideological parents of the BJP. The former planned and executed the death of an Australian missionary and his two children, and the latter produced a murderer to assassinate Gandhi.

Hindutva's current proliferation achieved through this victory means danger for the future of Indian democracy. Hindutva logic is percolating into various local practices, in India and in diaspora expressions of Hinduism. The saffronisation of India goes on unabated, and no strong national alternative to Modi has emerged.

More Persecutions of Christians

The word 'Christian' makes people recoil in disgust, eliciting a strong negative reaction among Hindus. It conjures up unpleasant images of a colonial past and creates a social instinct that says that the Christian religion should be damned. Christians are being beaten with sticks and rods in public by Hindu thugs on a daily occurrence in many parts of India. South Indian Christian workers in the North are living under harassment and constant threats of violence from the local Hindus.

Christians living in rural areas are especially vulnerable to persecution. Hinduism is the majority religion, but under Modi it has become increasingly tied to national identity. There will be more violence against Christians in the years ahead. The minorities will be forced to live at the mercy of the majority.

Open Doors' 2019 World Watch List reports, 'Since the current ruling party took power in 2014, Hindu extremists have fuelled a crackdown on Christian house churches and have attacked believers with impunity--believing that to be Indian is to be Hindu. So any other faith is viewed as non-Indian. In rural areas, Christians were told that one church would be closed down every week because they have been "destroying" local tradition and culture by "luring" others to convert to Christianity. And it is common for Christians to be cut off from local water supplies and be denied access to government-subsidized groceries.

'In India, saying "Yes" to Jesus has become a risky decision that will cost a person, his/her family greatly. Popular religiosity, in turn, is being directed into a mass ideology of Hindu supremacy and Hindu nationalism. The result is a deep and widespread Hinduisation of the public sphere which will damage peace and harmony in the diverse and pluralistic Indian society.'

The local partners of the Open Doors USA recorded 147 incidents of violence against Christians in India in 2014, but they have recorded 216 violent incidents in India in the first quarter of 2019 alone, including two murders. Christians... already routinely experience harassment and discrimination in the form of social ostracism, property destruction, hate speech and condemnation of their religious activities.'

Disruption of church services is common. Trouble-makers march into church gatherings and use abusive language against the pastors and preachers. They raise slogans in praise of Hindu gods and goddesses. It is feared that the Indian constitution will be altered in his tenure, giving the government more tools to persecute minorities.

Just as Islam must reject the Taliban or ISIS, so also Indians must reject hard-core Hindutva. There should be of course no scheme or project for conversion to Christianity by force or through fraudulent means. Christian fundamentalist thinking should have no place in India.

Fear God, honour the emperor

The early Christian author Peter, gave in similar circumstances an instruction for the church: 'Fear God and Honour the Emperor'. Christians must learn to respect evil rulers who are enemies of Christianity and Christians, but their knees will only bend to God who anointed and sent His Son to redeem the world calling all nations everywhere to repent.

It is important that Christians in India lead a life of worthy and law-abiding citizens of a multi-cultural and multi-religious India. Church leaders have to show integrity, accountability and transparency in the management of church finances and properties as marks of commitment to Christian witness. Church organisational machinery has to be altered and reformed to meet the challenges of new India. Theologians have to rethink their theological constructions and embark on a new theological journey. There is a need for the emergence of more Christian prophets and apologists who can defend Christian faith, facing all odds and oppositions. Christian unity is a must in these trying circumstances, and a spirit of solidarity must be shown among all sections of Christians irrespective of denominations and regions.

It is time to shed the minority complex which begs the Government for favours and privileges for the survival of Christian religion. The narratives of Elisha and his heavenly army, Elijah standing before 450 prophets of Baal, and Gideon with the 300-strong army against the Midianites prove that they were not weak in strength and poor in achievement. Let us greet each other with 'Immanuel'!

The Rev. Dr. Joseph Muthuraj is former Professor of New Testament at United Theological College in Bangalore, India, He has been one of the strongest voices in the global theological communion appealing for a renewal of Episcopacy to bring an end to the corruption in the Church of South India. He is VOL's India correspondent

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