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04/15/2019 India (International Christian Concern) – Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders across India continue to use religiously charged rhetoric to motivate their voter base as Indians head to the polls. For religious minorities, there is a concern that this use of religious nationalism will result in their communities being harassed and relegated to second-class citizenship if the BJP wins the election.

On April 11 India’s national election began. In that election, some 900 million voters will choose 543 members of India’s national parliament. The party that wins the majority of those seats will form India’s next government after the election ends on May 23.

As a part of their campaign strategy, the BJP, an openly Hindu nationalist party, has and continues to use religious nationalism as means of motivating their voter base. Using religiously charged rhetoric and promoting Hindu nationalist policies, BJP leaders have pitted two identities of India against one another: India as a Hindu nation verses India has a secular nation.

In addition, many BJP leaders continue to use rhetoric that disparages India’s religious minority communities.

Karnataka BJP Leader KS Eshwarappa, recently claimed that “Christians are not honest and loyal citizens of India.” In response, local Christians protested against this statement and called on Eshwarappa to publically apologize.

In Uttar Pradesh, BJP Leader and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath equated the election to a contest between Ali, referring to the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, and Bajrang Bali, a God championed by Hindus.

Finally, at a campaign rally last week in Darjeeling, BJP President Amit Shah said, “We will ensure implementation of NRC in the entire country. We will remove every single infiltrator from the country, except Buddha, Hindus and Sikhs.” Religious minorities across India were concerned by this extraordinary claim. Notably missing from the BJP President’s exemption for removal were the millions of Christians and Muslims who call India home.

Since the BJP took power in 2014, religious intolerance and attacks on religious minority communities have skyrocketed. In 2014, the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) documented 147 violent attacks on India’s Christian community. In 2018, after four years of BJP rule, that number more than doubled to 325. Many blame this increase in religiously motivated violence on the BJP-led government because of the religiously charged rhetoric the party’s leadership uses for political gain.

With religious nationalism taking center stage at BJP campaign rallies, religious minorities have reason to be concerned about the consequences of a BJP victory next month.

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