Indian Christians & 2014 Polls!

The secular aspect of India has assumed a new importance for the country’s Christian community. They are apprehensive about the communal and extremist nature of Sangh Parivar’s agenda against them if Narendra Modi succeeds in becoming next the prime minister of the country. From this angle, these parliamentary elections may prove to be a turning point for the socio-political significance of India’s Christian community.

Christians constitute 2.3 percent of India’s population and electorate. Unlike the Muslim community, whose vote is considered crucial in several parts of the country, not much importance has till date been accorded to the Christian vote. However, with most opinion polls predicting a victory for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Modi as its prime ministerial nominee, Christian clerics, voters and most organisations of this community have begun feeling uneasy about such electoral results. They fear Modi’s victory may spell danger signals for their own community.

Not surprisingly, Christian gatherings at churches have been marked with issuance of statements, appealing to people to “elect the best persons” who may uphold the country’s “democratic and secular character.” Similar advisories and voters’ guidelines have been issued in recent past by regional Christian organisations. True, churches have been indulging in such exercises since the emergence of BJP as a major political party in the 1990s. However, it is for the first time that they are feeling restless and uneasy about the Lok Sabha electoral outcome.

In the opinion of Reverend Roger Gaikwad, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), “There is fear in the minds of Christians. Some fear that difficult days are ahead.” This partly explains as to why India’s silent Christian community has become fairly active about judging its own socio-political importance in this electoral battle.

On its part, BJP has tried interacting with Christian clerics. BJP made efforts for a meeting between Modi and Catholic leaders earlier this year in Kerala. The Catholic Church, however, refused. Undeniably, BJP did succeed in arranging a meeting of two Bishops with Modi. The two Bishops even praised Modi. This move, however, angered a majority of Christians.

Indian Christians are naturally concerned that if Modi succeeds in heading the next government, their community may be subject to greater violence from Hindu extremists linked with BJP. BJP-ruled states, particularly Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, have been marked by violence against Christians and implementation of Anti-Conversion bill. Besides, earlier Modi has hurt Christian sentiments by removing Good Friday from the public holiday list and scheduling school examinations on dates clashing with Christmas and New Year celebrations of Christian students. Dates of school examinations scheduled to be held in 2003 on Good Friday and in 2001, scheduled to be held in last week of December, were changed at the instance of High Court. Later, Modi reintroduced Good Friday as a holiday.

It is for the first time that Christian activists are deliberating on their own political status within India. They are surprised that till date they had not given much importance to doing research and collecting data on their own political significance. They may have probably remained quiet on this front even now had they not been faced with the prospect of a Hindu extremist heading the next Indian government.

Unlike other religious minorities in India, particularly Muslims and Sikhs, to date, Christians have not formed any significant political party in any part of the country. To a degree, this may be linked with low percentage of their population and that they do not constitute a significant vote bank in any state or region. Undeniably, Sikh’s population is lower than that of Christians in India. The former constitute only 1.9 percent of the country’s population. However, unlike Christians, Sikhs dominate politics in Punjab and form around 60 percent of this state’s population. Christianity is practiced by around 90 percent of the  population in the states of Mizoram and Nagaland, 70 percent in Meghalaya, 34 percent in Manipur, 26.7 percent in Goa, 21.7 percent in Andaman & Nicobar Islands, 19 percent in Kerala and 18.7 percent in Arunachal Pradesh.

Legislators elected to Lok Sabha from these states add up to 31, with one each from Mizoram, Nagaland and Andaman & Nicobar Islands, two each from Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya and 20 from Kerala. The only states where Christianity is practiced by a majority of the population send only four legislators, less than one per cent of Lok Sabha’s strength.

Till date, the Christian community known more for its political silence, has suddenly become more conscious and concerned about its own future if an extremist, communal group steps into power.

Over all, in preceding elections, a majority of Christians favoured the Congress. But this time their vote is being guided more by anti-Modi fervour than by a pro-Congress tilt. The community is well aware that their vote may not make much of a difference. It may not spell any increase in the number of Christian legislators in Lok Sabha. Nevertheless, their vote and voice carry considerable importance in keeping Indian secularism alive! 

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 May 2014 on page no. 11

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