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5/21/2024 India (International Christian Concern) — Christians in India are prayerfully awaiting the results of India’s 18th general elections to the country’s Lower House of Parliament, now in the fifth of seven phases.

More than 900 million eligible citizens are voting for 543 seats of the Lower House, also known as Lok Sabha, for a five-year term. 

The polls close on June 4, when ballots will be counted, and a new federal government will be declared. 

Two main parties are vying to control the world’s largest democracy: the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the Indian National Congress (INC), a moderate party seen as friendly toward minorities. Both parties have many regional allies. 

The BJP, with its Hindutva ideology, has ruled with a brute majority for a decade, with two five-year terms playing to the predominantly Hindu population. At the same time, the INC is a moderate party that is more tolerant of Christianity.  

The consensus among the Christian community is that if the BJP sweeps to power for the third consecutive time since 2014, it will lead to new challenges for India’s minority populations, especially Muslims and Christians. 

“We have been praying earnestly and continuously that the INC should come to power in the Lok Sabha as we have been witnessing a steady rise in atrocities against Christians all over the country ever since the BJP government came to power,” said Pastor Rao who leads a church in the tribal areas of Chhattisgarh.  

Christians in India are citing the violent events against Christians in the states of Manipur and Chhattisgarh in 2023 and other attacks against believers and churches in various states as their reasons for having little hope of safety and security for Christians if the BJP retains power again. 

The INC has built an opposition alliance but has not inspired much confidence among the electorate. It is unlikely to obtain the minimum of 272 seats needed to form its own government. 

On the other hand, pre-poll surveys suggest that Prime Minister Modi may win comfortably. Modi’s inauguration of a Hindu temple in January in Ayodhya has bolstered his image as a staunch Hindu nationalist. 

This is the problem for Christians.  

Prime Minister Modi first came to power in 2014 on promises of cracking down on corruption. But he has, since then, fused religion with politics in a deadly concoction, attracting the fanatical support of India’s majority Hindu population. 

During Modi’s 10 years in power, India has seen rising unemployment, the persecution of minorities by Hindu nationalist groups, a stifling of dissenting voices, and the curbing of media freedom. 

Many Hindus disregard these negative issues in their blind loyalty to Modi. 

Christians in India have taken issue with the government’s tacit support of right-wing Hindu organizations that have incited violence against Christians or have directly attacked them under Modi’s rule. 

Some BJP-led states have introduced or amended anti-conversion laws under which pastors and believers have been intimidated, arrested, and jailed on false, unproven charges. 

Pastor Upendra, a community leader who has been at the forefront of fighting for the rights of Christians during the last 30 years, said if the BJP holds power at the national level, then it will introduce a constitutional amendment declaring India as a Hindu nation. The BJP will remove the words “secular and democratic,” which are the only constitutional pillars of support for Christians and other minorities.  

“Christians, Adivasis (tribals), scheduled caste (Dalits), and Muslims and other marginalized communities will all become second-class citizens with no rights whatsoever,” Pastor Upendra said. 

Fears that the BJP may amend the constitution if it comes to power have existed for some time. The BJP remains confident it will secure the 400-plus seats needed to amend the constitution. 

Rahul Gandhi, the INC’s leader, has stated that the BJP will change the secular fabric of India’s constitution to suit its divisive agenda and impose higher caste hegemony upon ordinary citizens. 

India’s caste system plays a dominant role in all spheres of life. Caste is a class structure that is determined by birth. In this system, one’s opportunities in life depend on the family they happened to have been born into.

There are five levels of the caste system in India — Brahmins (priests, teachers, etc.), Kshatriyas (rulers, warriors, etc.), Vaishyas (landowners, merchants, etc.), Sudras (servants), and the untouchables, called Dalits. The first three levels are higher castes and enjoy special social status and societal privileges. 

Most Christians in India belong to the last two low caste levels, which have traditionally been socially suppressed. But by embracing Christianity, their lives have changed with good education, leading to good jobs, etc. This development of Christians socially rising from repression has been a sore point for the Hindu nationalists, who are from the majority high caste communities that hold social power and authority. 

The Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS) is the ideological parent of the BJP and many other non-governmental right-wing fanatical and fringe organizations operating throughout the country with the single aim of attacking Christians and Muslims. 

Many of these fringe organizations have launched an insidious, sustained campaign of writing letters to district magistrates and chief ministers of BJP-ruled states to take stringent action against Christian missionaries leading Hindus to Christ. These groups are also working to remove Sunday as a holiday and introduce Wednesday as the official weekend in line with Hindu traditional calendars. 

Several states have officially banned the sale of meat and animal products, and some towns have banned evangelism in temple areas.  

One pastor, who asked to remain anonymous, has said that the RSS has appointed its Hindutva-idealogue trained high-caste members in all the top posts of the government and private sectors, including the judiciary and media through the BJP government. 

“Due to all these intimidating circumstances, we fear the worst for our community, and we are hoping that the BJP should not come to power and certainly not with an absolute majority,” the pastor said. 

Although the Election Commission of India (ECI) claims India’s general elections are the largest festival of democracy, many watchdog bodies and other secular think tank organizations do not see much to cheer about. 

While much of the mainstream Indian media shows everything in a positive light, some independent print and electronic media are raising concerns that these elections are taking place in unprecedented conditions of sectarianism and repression. 

Some have questioned whether India’s elections are free and fair. Around the time voting started, two incumbent chief ministers were arrested, bank accounts of opposition parties were frozen, and Modi invoked religion in his public speeches, violating the election model code of conduct. 

This year’s general elections will test India’s values as a secular democratic republic and could be its most consequential.

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