MINORITY REPORT: INDIAN CHRISTIANS AND THE BHARTIYA JANTA PARTY

With all the caste equations, class divisions and religious bifurcations prevailing in the country, one community’s voice remains unheard in the political sphere, the Indian Christians. Recently, Yogendra Yadav also mentioned in a piece[1] that Muslims and Christians do not “enthusiastically respond to Modi.” As far as Christians are concerned, Yadav’s statement remains true. It is important to understand the reasons as to why Modi’s BJP remains unpopular within this minority community. This issue of political disconnect between Christian minority and the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) can be analysed through three angles namely, BJP’s perception based exclusion model of governance, biased media and failure by BJP to understand internal diversity within the Christian community.

Let it be made clear that the lack of enthusiasm from the Christian community with respect to Modi’s BJP is not because of some policy decisions which blatantly exclude Christians. Such a policy would be illegal in the first place. There is a larger sense of social segregation because of the rise in a ‘perception based exclusion’ model of governance which is latently imbued in the working of the current BJP government. This model ostensibly relies on non-prosecution of fundamentalist leaders and hardliners when inflammatory statements are made or when rights of people from the minority community stand violated. For example, reconversion of Christians through ghar wapasi (homecoming)[2], reports of church vandalism[3] etc. are all significant issues for the Christian population but rarely addressed publicly. Such prima facie criminal acts effect the lives and security of the Christian population in India and sometimes even manage to garner international attention.[4] To Mr. Modi’s credit, he did make a statement when there was an intense debate on the rising intolerance in the country last year and he reassured that strict action would be taken against perpetrators of communal hatred. [5] But such public statements are usually too little and too late to act as an effective response to escalating violence. The constant omission to impose legal liability on the alleged perpetrators for inciting hatred towards Christian minorities reflect tacit encouragement of such acts and arguably, a shift towards a democracy which is defined by the diktats of a concretized majoritarian thought. Such omissions ultimately contribute to the rising discontent within the Christian community against BJP.

The victory of the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections along with other State elections has indeed confirmed that many people do agree with the vision of India which is shared by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Hence, a generalization that every person belonging to Christian minority opposes Modi would be an attempt towards straitjacketing the varying political thoughts of a whole community. However, there is a connection between the growing popularity of Modi and a rising resentment within the Christian community because of this ‘perception based exclusion’ model of governance.

Secondly, the absence of a thorough debate on the issues effecting minorities in various media platforms further fuels this negative perception of the BJP. The rhetoric on religious intolerance in India was widely reported and televised in the mainstream media in 2016. Yet, no answers emerged because the dialogue and discussions ended up becoming mere political mudslinging or a vilified attack on an individual.[6] The constant vitriolic communal politics played out by some of the politicians along with the continuous media coverage of the same gives a perfect cocktail recipe for promoting divisiveness in a diverse nation like India. Instances such as live broadcast of Dusshera speech by RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat on state television, the shamshaan-kabristan (cremation ground and graveyard) remark by Modi or RSS member’s announcement of bounty of One Crore Rupees on the head of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan aid in furthering the gap of exclusion. Extensive media coverage of hate politics without adequate representation of the Christian voices is bound to widen the perception of political exclusion experienced by Christians.

Thirdly, throughout such debates one tends to forget that there is immense diversity within the Christian community and this diversity might affect different Christians from different backgrounds disproportionately. Issues pertaining to religious intolerance towards Christians might not affect the urban educated Christians belonging to upper socio-economic strata but for those living in rural areas with vulnerable social situations such incidents can actively alter their viewpoint about the ruling government. It might also confirm the wider belief that the ruling party has an agenda of sponsoring a particular religion and is voluntarily persecuting them. This is what the current BJP government fails to appreciate. Treating a whole community as a single entity and thereby homogenising their identity results in the creation of resentment and discontent.

This is not to say that the problems of political exclusion have not been aggravated by Church authorities. The alleged proselytization[7] by Christian missionaries also leaves the converted vulnerable and they continue to live in fear of being persecuted by their ex-communities. This fear emanates and sustains because the recent converts usually remain disintegrated in the larger Christian society. Allegations of forcible or inducement based conversions by missionaries are rife and they need to be addressed in a fair manner by the BJP government. Unsubstantiated claims and ghar wapasi by fringe elements cannot be the solution for addressing such complex issues. Unless, there is an open debate regarding the same, such tactics would further resist the political inclusion of Christians within the current government’s narrative of ‘sabka saath sabka vikas’. Therefore, a more micro-level understanding of Christianity in India is required if the current government intends to alter their image within the community.

Swift action by the police along with strong public statements can potentially reassure the minority communities in cases of rights violation. However, the harsh political reality is that Christians as a vote bank might not matter given their limited number. It is important to remember that governments cannot undermine democracy on the basis of religion based vote bank politics. This dangerous and flirtatious relationship of the BJP with religion might act as a potent drug for the collapse of the already endangered social harmony of the country and further exclude Christians from the larger political sphere.

[1] https://thewire.in/116504/bjp-hegemony-power-democracy/

[2] http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/vhp-reconverts-50-calls-it-service-to-hindu-samaj-2/

[3]http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/kachna-village-chhattisgarh-church-vandalism-centre-seeks-report-on-the-attack/

[4] http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/religious-intolerance-in-india-would-have-shocked-mahatma-gandhi-barack-obama/

[5]http://www.financialexpress.com/india-news/in-wake-of-attacks-on-christians-ghar-wapsi-pm-narendra-modi-breaks-silence-threatens-crackdown/43933/

[6]http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/aamir-khan-joins-intolerance-debate-kiran-asked-if-we-should-move-out-of-india-rng-awards/

[7] http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/bend-it-like-bhalla/

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MINORITY REPORT: INDIAN CHRISTIANS AND THE BHARTIYA JANTA PARTY