The Christmas eve attacks on Christians in some parts of North India may well be a dress rehearsal for stepped up violence against this minority community by the Bharatiya Janata Prty (BJP) and its Hindu extremist cohorts in the run up to the State Assembly elections in several communally sensitive states like Karnataka, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh which are due in the next 13 months, writes P.K.Balachandran in South Asian Monitor.
In the last few days, a group of carol singers were beaten up, their hyn books torn to shreds and their vehicle torched in Madhya Pradesh. In Rajasthan, a Hindu right wing fringe group disrupted a Christmas fair, with the participants running away with their children for fear of their lives. This incident took place in the presence of the police who were passive witnesses to the crime.
The small Christian community in India is routinely accused of convert Hindus, when this is hardly the case now. Conversions had ceased in the 1920s.
Fearing repetition of such incidents and censure from its benefactor, the United States, the Indian Central government this week sent a circular to the States to see that Christmas celebrations were held peacefully. But while announcing this, Home Minister Rajnath Singh failed to condemn the incidents which had already occurred. Observers fear that the Hindu extremist cohorts of the BJP would ignore Rajnath Singh’s words as they ignored Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal to cow vigilantes to stop violence in the name of cow protection. Lynching of Muslims, who eat beef or trade in cows, continued regardless.
Political observers feel that in the absence of a development agenda, given the Modi government’s abject failure to perform on the economic front, the BJP might exploit religious communalism to the full to fill the void. After all, anti-Muslim and anti-Christian rhetoric and the projection of Hindu power are its USP.
The February-March 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections showed Modi that he could win handsomely without the support of the minorities and without fielding a single Muslim candidate. And the Gujarat elections in December 2017 proved that an anti-minority Hindutwa stance would save him from defeat even under adverse conditions.
A new Karnataka State Assembly is to be elected in May 2018.Elections to the Chattisgarh Assembly are due in November 2018. This will be followed by elections to the Rajasthan Assembly in December 2018.
In between there will be polls in Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura and Mizoram. But except for Tripura, these are Christian majority states where the BJP cannot be seen to be a “Hindu” expansionist party. But in the other states communalism will be harnessed.
Communalization of Karnataka
In Karnataka, an anti-Christian and Muslim stance is likely to pay dividends in some districts in the North and the West coast besides Bangalore city. These districts have a sizeable Muslim and/or Christian populations. In Chattisgarh, Muslims are in sizeable numbers only in Ranchi. In other areas, the conflict will be with Christians as the large tribal population had been converted to Christianity during Colonial rule and the majority Hindus have been wanting them to enter the Hindu fold.
Given the anti-incumbency factor working against the Congress government in Karnataka, the Congress will be hard put to it to fight the BJP onslaught, if the latter deploys the anti-Muslim and anti-Christian card in addition.
According to the website “Newsclick” the Uttara Kannada district in Karnataka was communalized after the 1985 communal strife. The BJP and RSS decided to celebrate Ganesh Utsav in public on a grand scale in a manner that would provoke Muslims. In 1990, a riot broke out with the preparation for Eid celebrations. The BJP along with RSS did a door to door campaign and mobilized Hindus to oppose the Eid procession.
BJP and RSS celebrated the laying of the foundation stone of the Ram temple in Ayodhya on Novembe 10. 1989. This resulted in a series of riots in Arsikere, Hubli, and Dharwad. In 1990 the Rath Yatra of the BJP again sparked communal tension on the route of the yatra. The demolition of the Babri mosque in December 1992 further polarized communities in the region.
In 1994, a dispute around an Urdu news TV channel broke out. The Kannada Para Sanghas (Kannada organizations) joined hands with the Hindu fundamentalist groups to oppose the channel. Since 2004, BJP has become even stronger. According to the data collated by Alternate Law Forum (ALF) in Bangalore 24 churches were vandalized under the BJP government in 2008.
In 2017 BJP has changed its agenda from development to communal polarization. The recent attack on the Baba Bundangiri shrine in December 2017 proves it, Newsclick points out.
Adverse Comments From US Watchdog
Repeated and brazen communalization of Indian politics and elections is has tarnished the image of India and the Modi government in the eyes of the Western world, especially the US, with which India has a strategic partnership.
The annual reports of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) have consistently criticized India’s assaults on religious freedom and have said that the situation has worsened under Modi’s rule. The report of April 2017 says: “The heightened enforcement against religious minorities by BJP government officials and/or Hindu nationalists has contributed to the deterioration of religious freedom in the country.”
Indeed it has worsened. According to a report by an international charity “Open Doors” published in early 2017, a church was burnt down or a Christian priest beaten up, ten times a week on an average, between January and October 2016. This was three times the hit rate that was seen in 2015. Most of the attacks against Christians took place in Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, both BJP-ruled states.
For example, in March 2016, 60 Christians worshipping at a Pentecostal church in Chhattisgarh were attacked violently by Hindu radicals. Church property was destroyed, congregation members were beaten, and female members of the congregation were stripped naked and beaten.
In April 2016, a Pentecostal community in Bihar was attacked. Thirty congregants and several pastors were beaten; one pastor was kidnapped and tortured for hours before being released. In July 2016 Hindu extremists abducted Pentecostal Minister Ramlal Kori and a friend from the village of Gadra in Madhya Pradesh, allegedly for trying to convert Hindus. The men were dragged into the forest and beaten with sticks. The police found them eight hours later, tied to a tree. But instead of arresting the attackers, the authorities detained the Christian victims on the basis of the state’s Anti-Conversion law.
In April 2016 in Chhattisgarh, two unidentified attackers, believed to be Hindu extremists, broke into a Pentecostal church and beat the pastor and his pregnant wife. The attackers also assaulted the pastor’s children and attempted to set the family and church on fire with gasoline for failing to say “Jai Sri Ram,” a Hindu slogan.
In May 2016, also in Chattisgarh, six Gondi tribal Christian families fled the village of Katodi after their Hindu neighbors attacked them in order to forcibly convert them to Hinduism. The families’ homes were destroyed.
In January, April, May and June the number of incidents this year were more than double that of all of 2016 “Open Door” said.