The electoral scene in the country is hotting up. In the next one year or so, several States will go to polls; general elections to the Lok Sabha too will take place. The BJP is not sitting as pretty as it was in 2014 and 2019 due to its loss of allies and waning Modi magic. The party which almost peaked its seat-share in the Hindi belt has come to terms with the reality that unless it scouts for new pastures, it is not going to be easy in the days ahead. Its ‘look North-East’ policy has borne fruit, though it had to give up its pet slogans there. The party wants to reach out to the people of States like Kerala which till now remained insurmountable. It has realized that without stealing the hearts of minorities, it is well-nigh impossible to achieve the target of even opening an account in the State in the general elections.
Reports suggest that the BJP has chalked out plans to elicit support of the Christian community whose population is around 18 per cent in Kerala. Christians have the numbers to swing the electoral fortunes of parties in several of the 20 Lok Sabha constituencies. One has to look at the recent meetings between the Church hierarchy and the BJP leaders from this perspective. Some of the ‘saffron leaders’ who used to mince no words in accusing pastors, priests and prelates of proselytization have gone silent. Instead, there is an unusual ‘bonhomie’ and ‘camaraderie’ between them. There are reports that BJP workers would visit Christian families to concretize the new-found bonding. The coming Easter could become the D-day for this unnamed operation. The party knows full well that if it wants to open an account in the next general elections in the State, votes of at least a section of minorities should fall into its kitty. As they cannot count much on Muslims, they have to bank on Christian votes.
As BJP makes fast moves in this direction, one cannot ignore two contrasting pictures that emerged in the recent past. One, the swearing in ceremony of Nephiu Rio as Nagaland Chief Minister. A Baptist pastor is offering prayers; the choir is singing Halleluiah hymns. And watching from the dais is none else but Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sitting quietly in the centre. Indeed, it was a rare sight. Now, turn the spotlight on the brutal and ruthless attacks on members of Christian community reported from across the country. Hundreds of Christians were made to flee their homes from village after village in Chhattisgarh. They were thrashed; their worshipping places demolished; fake cases filed against pastors and priests; they were dumped in open spaces with little privacy, that too close to Christmas festival. Organized campaigns by Sangh Parivar members are in full swing to reconvert them to Hinduism by threats and physical assaults. The list of such atrocities goes endlessly.
Along with physical attacks, the Hindutva elements are employing other dubious methods like filing cooked up cases against Christian institutions and authorities accusing them of heinous crimes. One such despicable incident happened early this month in Dindori district of Madhya Pradesh where a sexual assault case was filed against authorities of a Catholic school. On the basis of a ‘prompted allegation’ by a Class 11 girl student, the district child welfare committee conducted an inspection of the hostel in the middle of the night, violating all canons of law. The principal, a lay person, was arrested; the manager of the school, who is a priest, and a nun are facing arrest. However, the saving grace was that the student and parent community stood like a rock behind the school authorities, as they knew that the entire case was based on trumped up charges raked up by right-wing forces.
The Dindori incident is not an isolated one. The Sangh Parivar offshoots have been using such tactics umpteen times to harass Christian institutions and many priests and nuns have been put behind bars for no fault of them. This is a signal to other priests and prelates that they too could be trapped using the same ploy as the right-wing forces’ target is wiping out the minorities from the country in the next few years as revealed by some of their leaders.
The above incidents are just the tip of the iceberg. One gets a better understanding of the enormity of violence against Christians from a petition filed by Bangalore Archbishop Peter Machado in the Supreme Court last year. It states that at least 700 cases of violence against Christians took place in 2021 and 2022 (till May) alone. Ironically, FIRs have been registered only in 53 cases against the accused whereas FIRs against victims stood at 113. According to the data, in contrast to 23 people arrested for alleged violence, 510 pastors and victims had been booked -- mostly on the charge of forcible conversion. This prompted the apex court to ask the Centre to apprise it of the action taken by the law enforcement agencies in the cases of anti-Christian violence in eight States -- Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, M.P., Odisha, and U.P.
Yet another disturbing news comes from Arunachal Pradesh, a BJP-ruled State, which has banned conducting prayer services as a means of healing. The government claims that such practices are misleading people from taking recourse to medical treatment and it will lead to discord among people. This should ring alarm bells to the mushrooming charismatic prayer and retreat centres in Kerala where healing is an important part of such services. The priests and prelates who are overenthusiastic to support the saffron party should ponder over the Arunachal ban. It undoubtedly reveals what is in store for the Church, not only in Kerala but in other places too. Unless they ‘act as wise as serpents’ as warned by Jesus Christ, the result will be the same for the Church in Kerala as the Christians in other parts of the country face. Those who unleash an avalanche of messages on social media in support of the government backed by the Sangh Parivar should go through the writings of V. D. Savarkar and M. S. Golwalkar. They should also recall the Sangh Parivar stand on St. Teresa of Calcutta and her congregation.
In the background of the escalating violence against Christians, one cannot turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to certain piercing questions that would probably hit the nail on the issue. Why has the number of attacks on Christian communities skyrocketed after the Modi government came to power? What is the strategy of the BJP in wooing Christians in some parts of the country while targeting them brutally in other places? If the ‘beef issue’ is core to the Hindu belief, why is it not part of the BJP’s electoral manifesto in some States? What is the logic in enacting anti-conversion laws when the Christian population remains stagnant in the country and hardly any conviction takes place in such cases? More importantly, what is the justification for denying religious freedom, granted in the Constitution of India, using the bogey of forced conversion?