CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 13 July 2019

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India’s minorities uneasy following recent elections

NEW DEHLI (UCAN): “India wins again,” Narendra Modi, declared during a victory speech at the  headquarters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the capital, New Delhi, in which he pledged to build “a new India” touting growth and prosperity for all.
 
Modi and the BJP were returned for a second five-year term on May 23 in an election fought largely on the plank of Hindu nationalism.
 
Many say that the large majority enjoyed by the BJP is a threat to India’s secularism and multi-culturalism.
 
Religious minorities such as Christians and Muslims accused the first-term BJP government of tacitly encouraging bigoted attacks on non-Hindus as part of a bid to make India a Hindus-only nation.
 
A.C Michael, development director at the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), said a second term for Modi would not deter Christians from practicing their faith as guaranteed by the constitution.
 
However, Christians would continue to be falsely viewed as being pre-occupied with trying to secure mass conversions to their faith, despite census figure showing that the Christian proportion of the population had remained stagnant since independence in 1947.
 
“We may also face attacks,” he said. “But that does not mean we will stop practicing our faith.”
 
Michael said India’s democratic system constituted “a silver lining in a dark cloud.”
 
Allen Brooks, a spokesperson for the Assam Christian Forum in the north-eastern state, argued that the BJP’s victory should not be perceived as a threat to minority communities.
 
Rather, he said that minorities should stand united to protect their interests as constitutionally equal citizens.
 
The BJP and its allies won 351 seats, reducing the Congress party and its allies to just 92 seats in the 545-seat national parliament, while independent parties won 99 seats. The remaining two seats are reserved for Anglo-Indian representatives who are nominated by the government.
 
The BJP alliance improved on its 2014 election total of 336 seats.
 
However, despite the landslide, the BJP failed to make any significant political gains in the India’s southern states, failing to win any of the 45 seats in Kerala and Andhra Pradesh and garnering only one seat in Tamil Nadu.
 
When it first came to power in 2014, it promised to create 20 million jobs annually and to make Indian cities “smart” with electric buses and green environs. It also promised subsidies to farmers and to revitalise the sagging economy. But five years on the promises remain largely unfulfilled.
 
Observers noted much of the election campaigning focused on Hindu nationalist sentiments rather than issues such as unemployment, inflation and a worsening agrarian crisis.
 
Sourabh Sharma, a political columnist based in New Delhi said the situation “is the clarion call.”
 
The campaigns of Modi and other BJP leaders, were filled with notions of Hindu supremacy and “Pakistan bashing,” he noted. 
 
A terrorist attack by Pakistan-based militant outfit, Jaesh-e-Mohammad, on the Indian side of Kashmir triggered retaliatory air strikes by Modi’s government on Pakistan, which responded in kind.
 
Sharma said Modi milked the air strikes to incite Hindu passions.
 
An editorial in Britain’s The Guardian newspaper described the outcome of the elections as bad for India’s soul saying, “The world does not need another national populist leader who pursues a pro-business agenda while trading in fake news and treating minorities as second class citizens.” 
 
Hindus comprise 966 million, or some 80 per cent, of India’s population of 1.2 billion with Muslims making up 14 per cent. There are 28 million Christians. Other faith professions include Baha’i, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism and Parsee.

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