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ICC Note:

With the voting in India’s national elections complete, exit polls indicate that Narendra Modi, leader of the BJP, looks set to become the leader of India’s next national government. This news has many Christians and other religious minorities concerned for their future in India. Modi, a Hindu nationalist, has a history of tarnished by incidents of religious intolerance. With him at the helm and a majority of the new government coming from a Hindu nationalist party, will there be room for Christians in India in the near future?

5/15/2014 India (News ABC) – The man many credible Indian political experts said had no chance of being elected stands on the precipice of becoming India’s prime minister.

For years, Narendra Modi was dismissed as too divisive to ever be considered as a legitimate candidate for the job of prime minister. Now, if we are to believe India’s notoriously fickle exit polls, he looks set to win power after a gruelling five-week-long election period.

The 63-year-old has run a slick and persuasive campaign selling himself to the country’s aspirational voters as someone who can revive India’s flagging economy, stamp out corruption, and place the nation on the pedestal that the world’s largest democracy should be on.

His achievements as an economic manager as chief minister of Gujarat need to be recognised.

The state ranks in the top five when it comes to most indicators such as economic growth and agricultural production. It is also regarded as a place where people can do business.

Many others see a much darker side though. The easiest thing to point to are the deadly riots in Gujarat in 2002, when clashes between Hindus and Muslims left more than 1,000 people dead. Most of those killed were Muslims.

Mr Modi was the chief minister at the time and he is accused of standing back and letting the violence unfold.

He has never been charged over the riots, but some of his supporters have been convicted for their complicity – and are now sitting in jail. It is an easy connection to make.

Mr Modi’s fiercest critics envision him inflaming the sectarian divide in Indian society and unleashing havoc on minority groups across the country.

But this extreme scenario is not likely to eventuate. Mr Modi’s campaign has largely underplayed his Hindu nationalist credentials, instead focusing on his record as an economic reformer.

Most commentators agree that the man who started off his political career under a cloud of sectarian violence, would be too smart to begin his reign as prime minister in the same way.

Instead, what they fear is the gradual marginalisation of India’s minority groups.

Mr Modi’s party, the BJP (Indian People’s Party), has very few non-Hindu candidates.

India’s other major party, Congress, has traditionally been the party most Indian Muslims vote for.

It has some high-profile Muslim politicians, including external affairs minister Salman Kurshid.

In contrast, the numbers of Muslims and Christians within the ranks of the BJP are low.

New Delhi-based commentator Hartosh Singh Bal contends the voices of minority groups will be quieter in an India run by Mr Modi.

“Just by his presence there is a messaging that says, you know your place do your day-to-day work,” he says.

“His tacit warning to minorities such as Muslims and Christians is, ‘Don’t politically co-ordinate [or] work against me and you will be fine’.

“And I think the danger we’re running into is a majoritarian rule where the minorities are told, ‘You know your place, you will be fine’. That’s not the type of country this has been until this point in time.”

The big fear is not of state-sanctioned violence. It is of militant groups becoming emboldened by Mr Modi and taking matters into their own hands.

It is a frightening scenario, and there are constant reminders of the tinderbox that lies beneath the surface of Indian society.

During the campaign of deadly violence broke out in Assam between Hindus and Muslims. Likewise just this week, riots between Sikhs and Muslims in Hyderabad killed several people.

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