Religious Freedom in India Flourish or Wither Under Modi Government?

Washington, D.C. , 31 May-2014, Hoda Elshishtawy(mpac): Following the world’s largest democratic elections, India’s new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has officially sworn into office on last Monday(26th May-2014). Leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Modi won along with his party members who now make up the majority of Parliament. In the words of the New York Times, “critics fear that this will untie Modi’s hands to pursue the cultural agenda of the Hindu far right, a dangerous path in a country that is 15 percent Muslim and with sizable Sikh and Christian populations.”

Religious Freedom in India Flourish or Wither Under Modi Government?

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Muslim religious leaders and Modi/ Image credit: Times Of India 

During President Barack Obama’s congratulatory phone call to Modi, he invited the newly elected leader to come to Washington “at a mutually agreeable time to further strengthen [our] bilateral relationship.” This would not be notable except for one glaring fact: Modi was denied a visa to the U.S. in 2005 after news broke that he was complicit in religious riots in 2002 that killed more than 1,000 Muslims. At the time, Modi served as chief minister in the state of Gujarat, where in addition to the massacre, more than 150,000 people were forced from their homes. Modi failed to stop the violence and was even accused of encouraging it.

 In a report released earlier this year, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed concern over the country’s inability to address religious violence: “Despite the country’s status as a pluralistic, secular democracy, India has struggled to protect minority communities or provide justice when crimes occur due to a lack of political will, political corruption, and religious bias by government officials. This exacerbates the climate of impunity that already exists in the country.”

Will Modi and his ultra-nationalist party be able to govern India for all Indians? Modi’s campaign relied on his pro-business agenda, in which he stressed putting a priority on economic reforms and creating jobs. The U.S. and India should certainly work on economic cooperation; however, Obama would do well to share wise words with Modi from an expert on the international religious landscape: “Where the freedom to worship is suppressed, so are jobs and business opportunities.”

Modi, as the leader of the world’s largest democracy, now has a second chance to truly right the wrongs that took place during the 2002 riots. In a country with over 1.2 billion people, religious minorities make up significant numbers; India’s minorities include, 150 million Muslims and over 20 million Christians and Sikhs respectively. The well-being of these communities will directly impact the well-being of India.

In a world where religious minorities are increasingly being persecuted and marginalized, it is the job of governments, faith communities from all backgrounds and human rights groups to speak out and reverse this trend. The election of Modi is one of those opportunities; Indians must ensure that he is held accountable by the public as he takes on a position meant to govern all Indians, regardless of background.

Editor’s Note: Hoda Elshishtawy is a Legislative and Policy Analyst of the Muslim public Affair council, USA. She is also vice president of the organization. Views are her personal and it doesn’t reflect the views of this publication house. Get her at