Christians can heave sighs of relief as the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP party has been thrown out of power in three key states in central India that have reported dozens of incidents of anti-Christian violence and harassment. The BJP, which had enjoyed unstinted power in two of the states, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, for 15 years, winning three consecutive elections in both, was unseated when the final results of the election held in November and early December were announced. “We hope that things will now be better and we will have better times,” Archbishop Leo Cornelius, who heads the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh, told World Watch Monitor.
In Chhattisgarh, the BJP was routed, securing a mere 15 of the 90 seats in the state legislature, compared to 50 at the last election, while the secular opposition Congress party swept the polls, winning 68 seats. In the neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, the BJP’s three-time chief minister Shivraj Chauhan resigned after the election commission declared results there, with the Congress party winning 114 of 230 seats, while the BJP could muster only 108 (compared to the 165 it won in 2013). Similarly, the BJP’s tally in Rajasthan dwindled to 73 of 200 seats, from the 163 it held in 2013, while the Congress party won 99.
“The peace had been disturbed and the fringe Hindu nationalists elements had not been reigned in,” said Archbishop Cornelius, referring to the anti-Christian violence reported under BJP rule. “We hope the new administration will ensure that the law is upheld without fear or favour,” the archbishop said when asked about the actions of police in Madhya Pradesh state, who detained carol-singers last Christmas at the behest of Hindu nationalists who also assaulted the carol singers. Archbishop Cornelius said that he was “not surprised” when he found his name missing from the voter list when he went to vote in the same poll booth where he had cast votes since 2007.
“Not only my name, but the names of several priests and nuns were missing from the voter list,” he said. “It cannot have been an accident.” The BJP’s loss in three Hindu heartland states “needs to be seen from many angles”, Rev. Vijayesh Lal, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) said. He pointed to those who were simply tired of the government after three terms, on top of a resurgent Congress party and farmers’ anger over low prices for crops and high farming costs. “Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have historically been states where Christians have been facing hate crimes for a long time,” Rev. Lal said.
The EFI has issued several reports documenting the series of incidents of anti-Christian violence in the region. Madhya Pradesh amended its “anti-conversion law” to make it more stringent during the 15-year BJP tenure, while Chhattisgarh enacted an identical legislation, both of which have been used to imprison Christians on bogus charges and led to Christians being assaulted by Hindu fundamentalist outfits. Meanwhile, Christians had to appeal to the High Court of Chhattisgarh following a social boycott against Christians in mid-2015, after resolutions were passed in Buxar district villages with the connivance of government officials, as World Watch Monitor reported.
Despite the BJP being thrown out of power, Rev. Lal said he feared “little will improve for the minorities, especially Christians who remain a soft target”. With national elections due in early 2019, Rev. Lal cautioned that there could be “more vicious polarisation and increased attacks on minorities in order to consolidate the Hindu vote” in the region. Even the national media have pointed out how the BJP regime has been targeting religious minorities. “Election results are a warning to BJP against using Hindutva [Hindu nationalism] as a poll tactic,” read the headline by the news portal Scroll.in. The leading English daily, The Indian Express, cautioned the BJP in its editorial.
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