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Bishop fears for minorities in India after Modi win

31 May 2019


Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks to the media after his meeting with President Ram Nath Kovind, in the Presidential Palace, New Delhi, on Saturday

Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks to the media after his meeting with President Ram Nath Kovind, in the Presidential Palace, New Delhi, on Saturday

THE landslide victory of Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India suggests that voters have chosen “polarisation of faith” over development, the Anglican Bishop of Calcutta, the Rt Revd Dr. Probal Kanto Dutta said this week.

The Hindu nationalist party won 303 out of 543 seats, up from 282 in 2014 (News, 23 May 2014). The Financial Times reported that “such a magnitude of victory” had not been achieved in India since Rajiv Gandhi’s election in 1984.

Dr Dutta, who is deputy moderator of the Church of North India, said on Wednesday, that his first reaction to the result was “a big surprise. People of this country have chosen polarisation of faith then development of the country.”

In the past five years, none of the promises made by the Government had been fulfilled, he said, “and the politics of faith polarisation emerged as the priority of the people.” This would make it “difficult for the minorities to exist in this country.”

His own assessment was that the most pressing issues facing the country were “poverty, inflation, development, and maintaining  the secular fabric of the country”.

The Anglican Bishop of North East India, the Rt Revd Michael Herenz, listed a host of factors behind the election result, including the popularity of Mr Modi, the shortcomings of the opposition, and divisive religious campaigns: “the portrayal of Muslims as terrorists, the demonisation of Christians and communists, the drive to attack as well as co-opt and ‘Hinduize’ Dalits.” He noted the role of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing Hindu nationalist organisation, “and its relentless immaculate groundwork in the grassroots to build narratives that helped the BJP”.

The Church was engaged in a “struggle for survival”, he said. “In the context of cancellation of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act registrations [legislation that regulates the receipt of foreign funding, resulting in the inability of some charities to accept donations from abroad], imposition of anti-conversion laws and regulations, bringing in laws which control medical institutions and denigrate charitable service, physical attacks on Christians and their properties, and reconverting Christians to Hinduism (ghar vapasi), the Church has been seeking ways and means to survive. The Church has also engaged in publishing statements highlighting the justices inflicted on it, writing letters to the Prime Minister, organising protest demonstrations, rallies, holding special observances . . . and moving the law courts for justice.”

These were “reactionary, defensive strategies,” he suggested. The Church must be “proactive: as light, it should show liberative and constructive ways out of the darkness in which the country is engulfed, and as salt it will have to give taste to transformative endeavours. . .  Awareness should be built to educate people about the pitfalls of politics of hatred.”

The Archbishop of Bombay, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, who is president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, extended his “heartiest congratulations” to Mr Modi, in a letter on Saturday. “The people of India have given a clear mandate for a stable and effective government.”

The RC Church was “eager to work together for the vision of a New India which your Excellency has spoken about — a New India which gives hope and energy to our youth, empowers our women especially in rural areas, opens new and sustainable opportunities for our farmers and strengthens our economy while leaving no one behind: A New India which enjoys peace and prosperity and continues to make progress.”

Commentators suggested that President Modi, who now enters a second term, had benefited from a strong response to a suicide bomber who killed 40 members of the police in the disputed territory of Kashmir, in February.

Among those elected was Pragya Thakur, a Hindu ascetic accused of plotting a bomb attack on Muslims, who recently described the man who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi as a patriot

Sayan Banerjee, a researcher at the University of Essex, told Reuters: “This mandate would only encourage the social conservative wing of the BJP: they will double down on the Hindi-versus-Muslim polarisation politics.”

In its submission to the UN Human Rights Committee this month, Human Rights Watch warned of “growing insecurity and fear among minority groups in India”, noting that Muslims, in particular, and Dalits had been targeted by “extremist Hindu groups affiliated with the ruling BJP in the name of cow protection”.

This year’s report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom documented the growth of “exclusionary extremist narratives — including, at times, the government’s allowance and encouragement of mob violence against religious minorities”.

This year, for the first time, India entered the top ten in Open Doors’s table of Christian persecution (News, 18 January). 

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