Christians and those of other minority faiths in India are worried that they will face increased persecution following the landslide victory of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist party.
Attacks against religious minorities had already risen in the Hindu majority nation under Modi since 2014. But there is greater fear after the Bharatiya Janata Party won more control of the government last week.
Here are four things you need to know about the election in India and its ramifications.
1. The BJP won more seats than any other party
The BJP won 303 of the 542 seats in the Lok Sabha, or the lower house of India’s parliament. That’s up from the 282 seats the right-wing party won in 2014.
When adding the seats won by BJP’s allies (the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance), Modi has the support of dozens more over the next five years.
With majority power in parliament, Modi could wipe out religious freedom, which is currently protected in the country’s constitution, the Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations warned.
“While we are concerned for the future of the church in India we are also concerned about the very survival of the Constitution of the Republic that guarantees equality and freedom of religion, expression and association to every citizen,” FIACONA said in a statement. “Under a new ‘Hindu Constitution’ which Modi and his party wants to implement, all these freedoms we take for granted may not exist. The BJP and Mr. Modi needed a two third majority in the Parliament in their scheme to replace the Constitution. They do have that strength in the Parliament now. Other requirements to change the Constitution are already in place.”
2. Modi’s rise
Some have referred to Modi as the “Donald Trump of India” for his nationalism — namely in protecting the interests of the Hindu majority.
Modi comes from a low-caste family who sold tea. He later joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist group, and eventually became a leader. His story of working his way up has appealed to many in India.
He was the chief minister of Gujarat state when dozens of Hindus were killed in a train that caught fire in 2002. The incident sparked riots as Hindu leaders accused Muslims of the fire. More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the riots.
Modi was accused of doing little to stop the rioters. Since then, he has gained popularity among the Hindu majority.
Modi’s re-election has been viewed as part of a worldwide trend of the rise of populist and nationalist right-wing governments.
And that has many worried.
“I know there are populist regimes all over the world. But when the world's largest democracy tries to follow that model, it ruins its secular character that — we've all been saying that if Mr. Modi comes to power, it will be an attack on India's soul,” Rana Ayyub, a journalist based in Mumbai, India, told NPR. “India cannot afford to go the populist, strong-man way.”
3. How religious minorities have fared under Modi until now
Since Modi was first elected as prime minister, India’s rank as one of the worst persecutors of Christians in the world went up from No. 28 in 2014 to No. 10 this year.
“Since 2014, Hindu extremists have actively promoted hate toward its Christian and Muslim minorities which has led to a tragic escalation of violence,” said David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA. “So the results of this election — which keeps the same people in power — is an absolute tragedy.
“Christians in this region already routinely experience harassment and discrimination in the form of social ostracism, property destruction, hate speech and condemnation of their religious activities. We need the international community to stand up and do more.”
The latest report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom revealed that “religious freedom conditions in India continued a downward trend” in 2018.
Increased attacks have occurred with the “growth of exclusionary extremist narratives — including, at times, the government’s allowance and encouragement of mob violence against religious minorities — that have facilitated an egregious and ongoing campaign of violence, intimidation, and harassment against non-Hindu and lower-caste Hindu minorities."
Specific attacks include Hindu lynch mobs, which have perpetrated more than 100 attacks since 2015, resulting in 44 deaths, according to USCIRF. Cows are considered sacred to Hindus and many Muslims have been targeted by mobs for cow slaughter or eating beef.
USCIRF noted that Modi “seldom made statements decrying mob violence, and certain members of his political party have affiliations with Hindu extremist groups and used inflammatory language about religious minorities publicly.”
“Victims of large-scale attacks in recent years have not been granted justice, and reports of new crimes committed against religious minorities were not adequately accounted for or prosecuted.”
U.S. Congress members and church leaders have made several appeals to Modi over the last few years to call for more protection of religious minorities.
4. How Christians are reacting to the election
While many Christians have expressed disappointment in the election results, some are not surprised.
“We are not happy or sad,” said an Indian church partner of Open Doors USA. “We trust the Lord is in control and He will help us through it all.
“Some Christians are discouraged, yes, but they have also been preparing for this to happen. It is also true that neither Congress nor other parties work for the welfare of Christians. We would have faced opposition anyhow. So we instead prepare ourselves to face what God has prepared for us.”
Another church leader, Pastor Samuel, told Open Doors that more persecution is possible.
“It is possible that the Indian laws and even clauses in the constitution will be altered in this tenure, giving the government more tools to persecute minorities,” he said.
Pastor Samuel called on Christians around the world to pray for them.