Prime Minister Modi in Houston
09/12/2019 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – On Sunday, September 22, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India will be in Houston, Texas for an event hosted by the Texas India Forum (TIF). Tens of thousands of individuals are expected to attend the “Howdy Modi” event at the NRG Stadium. The website for the event boasts over 1,000 volunteers for the event as well as 650 Texas-based Welcome Partner Organizations. Naturally, there is a great deal of excitement around the Prime Minister’s visit and the event is expected to be one of the largest gatherings for a foreign leader.
While the enthusiasm around Modi’s visit is apparent and his visit is welcomed by many, others are not as keen to welcome the Prime Minister. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India has witnessed a significant rise in the religious persecution of Christians, Muslims and other religious minority groups around India. The rise in violence has largely been driven by the radical Hindu nationalism that embodies the core of the BJP and Modi’s ideology. Religious intolerance is touted in public speeches by the various leaders of the BJP and other likeminded organizations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The Modi Administration has done little to curb the rhetoric and counter the inflammatory messaging of the BJP leadership.
What’s more concerning is that the national sentiment within India has trended in an ever-poorer direction with the recent electoral wins enjoyed by Modi and the BJP. The landslide victory shows an ever-increasing and worrisome trend in the general public of accepting the nationalistic ideology and continued violence and aggression that is continuing to grow across India. Over the course of Modi’s rule, attacks against Christians have more than doubled. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported 147 violent attacks in 2014 and in 2018 that number had increased to 352. Christians and other religious minorities had good reason for concern. Additionally, a growing concern about potential constitutions amendments to delegitimize India’s religious minorities by making India a “Hindu nation” exists not just among the Christian community, but other non-Hindu communities as well. The recent events in Kashmir are only reaffirming this concern.
The situation has evolved so much that it has begun to catch the attention of the Members of the United States Congress who have sent several bipartisan and bicameral letters to Prime Minister Modi specifically raising concerns about the growing issues surrounding religious intolerance. One particular Member of Congress, Ro Khanna – a practicing Hindu – has been vocal in raising his voice to condemn Hindutva (the commanding ideology of the BJP) and criticized the increasing violence against India’s religious minorities. Rep. Khanna tweeted in August of 2019, “It’s the duty of every American politician of Hindu faith to stand for pluralism, reject Hindutva, and speak for equal rights for Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhist & Christians. That is the vision of India my grandfather, Amarnath Vidyalankar fought for.” While these efforts are encouraging and much needed, more leaders must speak out against India’s growing religious oppression. With the recent events taking place in Kashmir and the blatant suppression of civil liberties and human rights, it is time for the United States to keep the leadership of one of its most cherished allies accountable.
The United States should always lead with its values, and instead of welcoming Mr. Modi to the United States in Houston at the Howdy Modi event, leaders like Governor Abbot and Senator Cornyn should use the opportunity to protest Modi and his regime’s policies and to publicly condemn his and his party’s hate-filled rhetoric.
Religious freedom and religious tolerance are among the foundational values of our great democratic republic, and as such these values should be among the commanding elements of US foreign policy making. The United States must hold Modi and his administration accountable and demand significant policy adjustment from the administration to safeguard the freedoms of all Indians. India should finally allow the commissioners of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom to visit India in an official capacity and report on the facts. The US should pressure Indian regional governments to repeal oppressive laws (the so-called anti-forced conversion laws) that are used to silence and oppress India’s religious minorities. The US should continue to engage India’s leaders to publicly condemn attacks against religious minorities.
It is not too late for India, but should the US and its allies refuse to engage Modi, the situation in India is likely to continue to worsen and produce further death and destruction on India’s religious minorities. Texas and leaders around the US should hold Modi accountable, now!
Matias Perttula currently serves as the Advocacy Director for International Christian Concern where he leads the government relations efforts to mobilize the US government to address issues of persecution in countries where religious minorities are oppressed and the freedom of religion is in decline.