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India’s elections elevate Christians’ hope

NEW DELHI (BP)–Hindu nationalists, who had exercised their clout against India’s Christians and Muslims until the centrist Congress Party’s revival in elections five years ago, find themselves further marginalized after this year’s national and state elections.

In voting from April 13 through May 13, the Congress Party emerged with more than 200 of the 543 seats in the popularly elected parliament. Its alliances with various parties moves its control of parliament to 260 or more seats, perhaps as many as 315 for a firm majority.

Five years ago, the Congress Party won 145 seats and assembled a coalition to gain a parliamentary majority, ending the six-year dominance of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), which envisions making India into a Hindu nation, and its coalition.

Compass Direct News described the election as occasioning “a sigh of relief” among India’s Christians, who comprise about 2.3 percent of the population.

But the election involved far more than India’s religious tensions. As noted in a report from Voice of America: “Political analysts say the [Congress Party] has reaped the benefits of implementing policies during its last term such as a massive $5 billion work scheme which promises 100 days of work to poor people every year. At the same, its commitment to modernizing the economy won the support of the middle class, which has benefited hugely from the high economic growth witnessed until last year.”

Nevertheless, as Compass put it, “The BJP’s defeat at the national level is expected to compel the party to decide whether it turns to moderation in its ideology or more extremism in desperation.”

Compass quoted John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council (AICC), as saying the BJP was “defeated not by Christians or Muslims, but by secular Hindus.”

“I am hoping that the BJP will learn that it does not pay to persecute minorities, and that civilized Hindus are disgusted with divisive antics of the RSS family,” Dayal said in reference to the larger Hindu nationalist movement, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, of which the BJP is a part.

Compass reported that the BJP also lost ground in the Indian state of Orissa, where anti-Christian violence last year resulted in more than 125 deaths and the destruction of 300-plus villages, 4,600 houses, 250 churches and a dozen educational institutions, leaving more than 50,000 people homeless.

The BJP won only seven of the 147 seats in Orissa’s state assembly, Compass reported.

The downturn in the BJP’s fortunes, however, has not lessened attacks against India’s Christians, Compass noted, citing statistics from the Christian Legal Association that anti-Christian attacks, even before last year’s spike in violence, numbered more than 1,000 in 2007, up from some 130 attacks in 2006.

Compass quoted a spokesman for the Catholic Bishops Conference of India as expressing hope that the strengthened Congress Party coalition will “restore confidence among all sections of people, particular among the religious minorities, for … a stable, secular and democratic government.”
Compiled by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston.

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