London, 28 May-2014, Madeleine Davies(Churchtimes): WARNINGS that the victory of Narendra Modi, the new Prime Minister of India, is bad news for the country’s Christians have been challenged by the Bishop of Durgapur, in the Church of North India, Dr Probal Kanto Dutta.
On Wednesday, Dr Dutta said that the landslide victory of Mr Modi’s nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had come as a “big surprise”. Christians in his diocese were expecting “positive changes as promised by the Modi government”.
He said: “Ten years ago, when BJP came to power, their manifesto was ‘Ram Temple’ and ‘Hindutva’, but in 2014, their manifesto talks about development, where they have taken up the successful model of the state of Gujarat, where Modi was the Chief Minister.”
“Ram Temple” refers to the BJP’s proposal to construct a temple at the birthplace of Rama, Ayodhya, where a Muslim mosque was destroyed in a riot in 1992. “Hindutva” is an ideology often taken to mean that to be Indian is to be Hindu.
Dr Dutta suggested that the election result reflected India’s desire for “opportunities for the young people, reduction of inflation, good governance, strengthening the fight against corruption, and new hopes. All these things are yet to be seen.”
The results of the elections in India, the world’s largest democracy, were announced on Friday. The BJP secured 282 of the 543 elected seats of India’s lower house. No party has managed to get a simple majority since 1984. The outgoing Congress Party won only 44 seats, its worst ever performance.
Described by some as a hard-liner, Mr Modi first entered the world of politics as a child, campaigning for Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing Hindu nationalist organisation that has been banned several times.
As Chief Minister of Gujarat, he has been credited with securing economic prosperity for the state. His tenure has, however, been overshadowed by the riots that took place in 2002, during which more than 1000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed (News, 8 March 2002).
Although Mr Modi was cleared by the Supreme Court in 2012 of complicity in the violence, he is still dogged by accusations that he allowed or encouraged what has been described as a pogrom. In 2005, the United States government denied him a visa, under a law that bars entry to foreigners who have committed “particularly severe violations of religious freedom”.
On Friday, the President of the National Congress of Indian Christians, C. A. Daniel, told International Christian Concern, a charity based in the US: “Today is a black day in the history of India for Christian minorities. Christians are not safe under BJP rule.”
On Tuesday, the Revd David Haslam, convener of the Churches Dalit Support Group, said that, at a recent meeting of the group, a Dalit woman had said that victory for Mr Modi would spell “disaster” for both Christians and Dalits (who are regarded as the lowest caste in India).
Mr Haslam suggested that, despite the 2012 Supreme Court ruling, Mr Modi “needs to do some really hard work convincing minorities in India that he will genuinely protect them from the kind of violence that occurred in Gujarat in 2002”. The RSS was a “neo-fascist organisation”, he said.
“If you are a Hindu Dalit, you will probably be OK, but you will be kept at the bottom of society because that is your place in the caste system,” Mr Haslam said. “If you are a Christian, Muslim, Sikh or Buddhist Dalit, you might be quite fearful about what is likely to happen.
On Friday, after the election results were announced, Mr Modi said: “The age of divisive politics has ended. From today onwards, the politics of uniting people will begin.”