06 June 2024

India election results: what next for persecuted Christians?

What do India’s election results mean for Christians in the country? Priya Sharma, Open Doors local partner, shares what the BJP’s victory and a new coalition mean for persecuted Christians.

India’s Christians ask for prayer in the aftermath of the election results

India’s Christian community is bracing for the consequences of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) probable return to power for a third successive term. Following the BJP win in the national elections, announced on 4 June after six weeks of voting, concerns are mounting over increased persecution and discrimination – though with some glimmers of hope.

Though the BJP now have 62 fewer seats than before, they were still the victorious party, winning 240 out of 543 seats. Since they no longer have a parliamentary majority, they will rely on their National Democratic Alliance (NDA) allies to form the government. “India’s Christians could take encouragement that their prayers have been answered in part by the BJP not reaching an absolute majority,” says Priya Sharma*, a local Open Doors partner, but she also cautions that the party and its alliance are likely to continue its agenda, heavily influenced by Hindu nationalist ideology, or ‘Hindutva’.

A decade of increasing hostility

Since the BJP first came to power in 2014, religious intolerance towards Christians, Muslims and other religious minorities has escalated significantly. Priya Sharma notes that the pattern of persecution is far from random: “The attacks against Christians have been very systematic and have only increased. Pastors are imprisoned on false charges, churches are closed, and there is forced re-conversion to Hinduism,” she says. Anti-conversion laws, meanwhile, are increasingly abused to target and harass believers, and four more states have passed these laws since the BJP came to power in 2014.

“The attacks against Christians have been very systematic and have only increased.” Priya Sharma, Open Doors

She says that the BJP’s ideology has emboldened Hindu extremist groups to act with impunity, leading to physical assaults, false accusations of forced conversions, and mob violence in many parts of India. Even during the election period, violence continued, particularly in regions like Manipur where extremists attacked polling booths and murdered Christians.

Christians, who constitute around 2.3% of India’s population, face significant challenges in gaining political representation. Since Christians are not concentrated in any single region, this further dilutes their political influence. Despite this, churches encouraged their members to vote, hoping for change. “They have taken this election seriously and most of them have voted, praying for some kind of change, because they had been aware what kind of situation has been created for them in the past 10 years,” she says. “They believe whatever would be the result, that God will give them the strength and grace to handle the situation.” 

However, the prospects for Christian representatives in the Indian Parliament, or Lok Sabha, remain unlikely. “Even if there is a Christian representative, their voice would not be heard,” Sharma says. “They might want to advocate for the Christian community, but they often have to align with party agendas, which overlook minority religious voices.”

Fear of future legislation

The BJP’s potential future policies have exacerbated fears of discrimination and persecution against Christians and other religious minorities. Sharma mentions the Uniform Civil Code, which proposes a single law for all citizens regardless of religion. While this sounds egalitarian, it threatens to erode legal protections for Christian practices related to marriage, divorce, inheritance and adoption. The Citizenship Amendment Act, which excludes Muslims from fast-tracked citizenship, is also evidence that religious minorities face policy discrimination and has concerning implications for future policies.

“Whatever the result, God will give them the strength and grace to handle the situation.” Priya Sharma

“There is a protest going on especially from the religious minorities regarding these policies,” says Sharma. “The Uniform Civil Code says there will be one law for everyone, which will lead to further marginalization. It’ll affect the Christian community because their freedom and rights would be coopted. That’s one of the fears that the Christian community has for the next few years.”

The state of Manipur has been a hotspot for violence, with Christian communities disproportionately bearing the brunt of the conflict which began in May 2023. “I fear that, with the BJP winning, the current situation in Manipur will continue and intensify,” says Sharma. “There won’t be any respite or arrest to the violence.” The demand for a separate administration by the majority-Christian Kuki tribe adds another layer of complexity and potential unrest.

Cautious optimism

But there is also some optimism in the Christian community after the election results. The close battle between two political parties – Modi’s BJP and the opposition Indian National Development Inclusive Alliance (I.N.D.I.A.) – shows that the people of India moving towards a slightly more balanced leadership.

Open Doors partner Rahul Reddy* explains that the uptick in the profile of the opposing party can be good news for minority religions. “Although the election seems to favour the communal party, the emergence of I.N.D.I.A bloc should be applauded. They have become a formidable opponent to the ruling party and have fought neck and neck. Now, there is an opposition that can counter the nationalist government in cases of tyranny and oppression.” 

Reddy continues that given the lack of absolute power of BJP, their nationalist moves can now be kept in check. “They cannot misuse things such as the enforcement directorate or income tax or their allies to threaten opposing ministers and send political opponents to jail. Leaders cannot amend the laws as they choose. This election gave a gift of democracy compared to the past two term elections that have been biased. This election is clear evidence of the beginning of the fall of hatred politics.”

Please keep praying

“We need a place where people can practise their rights and create a safe haven for people of all faiths.” Priya Sharma

Finally, Priya Sharma’s plea to the new government is to restore India’s secular character, in line with the constitution that acknowledges the freedom of religion for all. “Make India a secular country. It’s supposed to be a place for all religions to coexist,” she says. “We need a place where people can practise their rights and create a safe haven for people of all faiths.

“India’s Christians have been praying and fasting extensively,” she adds. “Hopefully, they will continue to pray that the need for collaboration might offer some opportunities for change.” Please join our Indian brothers and sisters in this prayer.

*Names changed for reasons of security

Please pray
  • For the right government to be formed and right leadership to lead the nation with equality and non-discrimination
  • That the new government will work to support all religions, cultures and castes
  • For the Christian community to receive God’s wisdom, knowledge and protection to face what is ahead.
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  • Every £30 could provide emergency food aid to two believers in India affected by violent persecution
  • Every £47 could help a persecuted community establish their livelihood, giving them long-term financial security.

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