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6/25/2024 India (International Christian Concern) — After months of campaigning and a weeks-long voting process, the results of India’s general election are a surprise to many analysts. While Prime Minister Modi, who was expected to win in a landslide, did retain his position, his victory was far from decisive. More importantly for the country’s many persecuted religious minorities, Modi failed to obtain a clear electoral mandate for his radical brand of Hindu nationalism and appears to be handicapped in that effort going into his third term. 

A Reduced BJP 

Modi’s party, the BJP, has been forced to rule with a coalition of other parties for the first time since Modi’s rise to power in 2014. This result may not seem surprising to the uninitiated in a political landscape featuring an estimated 2,600 parties. Still, it represents a significant blow to the party’s reputation, built as it is on decisive political action and its clear-minded adherence to advancing Hindu nationalism over the rights of non-Hindus. 

Specifically, some have indicated that Modi planned to amend the Indian constitution to remove protections for religious minorities. Though this claim is disputed, the BJP’s reduced legislative presence means that this scheme is now impossible because the BJP lacks the necessary two-thirds majority. 

Early reports suggest that Modi will have a difficult time promoting Hindu nationalism in this term, something that has endeared him to his core support base. The two largest parties in the BJP coalition — the TDP and JD (U) — are decidedly more secular than the BJP, and their leaders have previously wrangled with Modi. 

Analysts believe the coalition will likely cooperate with the BJP on foreign policy and the economy but will likely balk at efforts to continue eroding India’s secularism. While time will tell whether this outlook is correct, the 2024 elections may mark the beginning of a reduced BJP in India. Without a clear challenger — the Congress Party, a possible contender, fared especially poorly in regional elections in 2023 — it is not unreasonable to think that the BJP may be able to win voters back in future elections. 

Uttar Pradesh 

Particularly embarrassing for Modi, the BJP failed to win Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, and it was a historic bastion of support for the party. Located near the capital, New Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, is led by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath — a well-known firebrand for the Hindu nationalist who has publicly urged the death penalty for religious minorities whose spouses choose to convert from Hinduism. 

Adityanath is a leading figure in India’s swing towards radical Hindu nationalism. “When I speak, thousands listen,” he told a crowd in 2009. “When I ask them to rise and protect our Hindu culture, they obey. If I ask for blood, they will give me blood. I will not stop until I turn Uttar Pradesh and India into a Hindu Rashtra,” referring to the nationalist concept of a “pure” India of and for Hindus. 

Under Adityanath’s watch, Uttar Pradesh adopted an anti-conversion ordinance in 2020. Since being ratified by the legislature in 2021, it has swiftly turned the state into one of the most dangerous places for Christians in India by empowering mobs to attack people of faith. According to civil society leaders in the state, more than 230 people have been jailed under the law since 2021, and the number continues to climb almost daily. 

In 2020, Uttar Pradesh passed a law criminalizing conversion in the context of an interfaith marriage and imposed a penalty of up to 10 years in prison for violating the decree. Under the law, interfaith couples must apply for approval from a magistrate two months before their marriage and may only proceed after official authorization. Adityanath has publicly urged the death penalty for religious minorities who convert their spouse from Hinduism. 

Despite losing Uttar Pradesh in the 2024 general elections, Modi and Adityanath appeared together at a public event shortly after, highlighting Adityanath’s importance to the BJP and Modi’s continued commitment to the Hindu nationalist cause. 

Continued Threat to Religious Minorities 

While Modi is certainly handicapped in his ability to advance his nationalist agenda, it should not be forgotten that he is still at the helm and has laid out a clear agenda to reduce the country’s religious minority communities in favor of a state of and for Hindus. 

With or without a clear electoral mandate, Modi’s crosshairs are on the country’s religious minorities. Whether Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, or members of another group, they represent a convenient bugbear for a leader with an increasingly narrow definition of what it means to be Indian. More immediately, they may provide a convenient target for frustrated nationalists who, despite failing to deliver Modi a resounding victory, still lead the political conversation in India. 

And even if Modi is limited in his ability to implement new policies of discrimination, his first two terms gave him plenty of opportunities that are still in effect today. For example, his government announced in March that it would begin implementing a carefully tailored piece of legislation, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), designed to strip the rights of citizenship from religious minorities. 

When passed in 2019, the bill sparked an international outcry for its explicit discrimination based on religion. Clearly, at odds with India’s founding as a secular democracy, the bill provides immigrants of certain religions with a clear path to citizenship but excludes Muslims from that list. 

Combined with the practice of citizenship tests, in which officials require current residents to prove that they or their family have lived in India since before 1971, the CAA is a powerful tool not only to exclude potential immigrant Muslims but also to disenfranchise current citizens. Citizenship tests cast a wide net, stripping the rights of citizenship from millions of Hindus, Christians, and Muslims alike. However, the CAA creates loopholes in that net, allowing everyone but Muslims an easy way back in and leaving Muslim citizens stateless. 

While it might be tempting for the uninformed observer to celebrate the CAA as a positive step for non-Muslims, India’s history clearly illustrates that discrimination against Muslims is simply a harbinger of what is to come for members of other minority faiths. Indian Christians, for example, now face many of the same legal challenges formerly targeted at Muslims, and the last two years have seen an increase in mass violence against Christian communities — a pattern of attack formerly reserved for Muslims. 

While Indian officials claim that the CAA is designed to address persecution issues in neighboring countries, it is designed as a vehicle of persecution itself. 

Commenting on the CAA as it passed through parliament in 2019, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom called it “a dangerous turn in the wrong direction” and called for the U.S. to consider sanctions if it became law. The U.S. has not, to public knowledge, followed this recommendation in any way despite the clear violation of human rights posed by the law. 

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