Church of England Newspaper | Church leaders welcome Modi victory, but concerns remain

CHURCH LEADERS have welcomed the re-election of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India, but campaigners warned that his nationalist stance could leave Christians vulnerable.

The recent election, which took place in seven stages, saw 900 million people eligible to vote. The turnout at 67 per cent was the highest ever in an Indian general election and it also saw the highest participation by women.

The main opponent of Mr Modi and his BJP party, Rahul Gandhi’s Indian National Congress and the United Progressive Alliance failed to secure the 10 per cent of the seats needed, meaning that India is without an official opposition party.

Archbishop Joseph D’Souza, on behalf of the Good Shepherd Churches in India and All India Christian Council has congratulated His Excellency Shri Narendra Modion his historic landslide win.

The Archbishop said that the members of the All India Christian Council and their churches would be praying for Shri Narendra Modi and his government ‘as he governs the nation with challenges ahead of him’.

However, other Christian groups were more circumspect.

Prime Minister Modi has appealed to a sense of Hindu nationalism, prompting concerns from other religious communities.

Some observed that the tightening nationalist grip on India was concerning Christians, who are suffering increasing violence at the hands of extremists. Evangelical Christians warn that religious polarisation in the country is now at an all-time high.

The Christian campaigning group Release International said that attacks against India’s Christian minority have more than doubled since the BJP came to power in 2014. That year, Christians suffered 147 attacks. But by the end of the BJP’s first term in office, that number had risen to 325.

The Evangelical Fellowship of India said that in 2018 violence against Christians had soared by 57 per cent.

“Indian Christians fear this further shift towards nationalism could lead to even more attacks against their community,” warned Paul Robinson, the CEO of Release International, which supports persecuted Christians around the world.

“For years now, Indian nationalist extremists have been fostering intolerance towards Christians, which is increasingly spilling over into violence. At worst, that attitude holds that to be Indian is to be Hindu – and that minorities, including Christians, will no longer be tolerated.”

While he sent his congratulations to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he added his concern: “Mr Modi, please guarantee the security of your Christian community, who fear your party’s success could lead to further violence. Please make it absolutely clear that aggression in the name of nationalism or religion will not be tolerated.”

Some Christians in India fear the new government will come under pressure to drop the secular constitution that underpins the world’s largest democracy, and instead establish India as a Hindu nation.

Paul Robinson observed: “Such a backward step could do untold damage to community relations in India.” He called on Mr Modi to make it clear that he will uphold India’s secular constitution ‘and the guarantee of religious freedom it extends to every Indian citizen’.

Those concerns are well founded. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom said recently that hate crimes in India are rising. The Commission said that one third of Indian states were enforcing anti-conversion laws.

Out of the country’s population of 1.3 billion, only 26 million are Christians.

Evangelicals have been reporting increasing attacks, with the bulk of these taking place in Uttar Pradesh. Although the number of Christians there is ‘tiny’ the number of attacks has been rising steadily since last September and locals say that the disruption of church services is common.

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