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Christian Contexts in 2018: Elections in South Asia

The South Asian region is home to a plethora of security concerns which could escalate this year. The most important factor in 2018 is state and national elections in India which could have far-reaching implications for the security of Christians in the region.

The next two years will see national elections in Pakistan and Afghanistan (in 2018), and Sri Lanka and India (in 2019). Along with these general elections, state elections will also take place.

In India, eight states will visit the polling booths over the next two years. With reference to the Christians, two common threads link these countries. The first is that Christians form a small minority (the second largest minority) who have experienced religious-based violence. There is also a prevalence of religious nationalisms which have gained access to political power.

Relationship between Elections and Riots

Academic literature provides a strong evidence of a link between riots against religious minorities and elections as they can be used to coalesce the majority religion’s vote bank against a perceived threat of a powerful or growing minority.

The seminal work in this area (which is also contextually relevant to us) is by Steven Wilkinson who studied Hindu-Muslim riots for the 20th century in India. Wilkinson’s research has not been applied to anti-Christian riots to India, however, most analyses of anti-Christian riots have suggested that upcoming state and national elections played a large part in explaining the causes of violence in these instances of violence against Christians. This is the case in Dang region (Gujarat in 1999), Kandhamal (Orissa in 2008) and Karnataka (in 2008)

The State of Violence and Violent States

Over the next two years, eight Indian states are headed to the polls – Tripura, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Karnataka, Mizoram, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.  Of these, Christians are an overwhelming majority population in Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Mizoram, and tend to experience less violence. According to statistics provided by the EFI, there were no instances of violence in these states over the past 5 years. However, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are frequently high on the list of states which experience numerous instances of anti-Christian violence (see Table 1). Several of these states are also prone to anti-minority violence (see Table 2). Once again, Karnataka and Madya Pradesh experience high levels of communal violence.

State 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Andhra Pradesh 13 41 2 5 2
Arunachal Pradesh 3 2
Assam 5 2 4 4 1
Bihar 5 3 3
Chandigarh 1
Chhattisgarh 21 28 28 20 15
Delhi 2 1 4 7 2
Goa 1
Gujarat 2 1 2 1
Haryana 1 1 8 1
Himachal Pradesh 2 2
Jammu & Kashmir 3 1 1
Jharkhand 1 1 4 11 7
Karnataka 37 27 13 6 6
Kerala 1 5 6
Madhya Pradesh 18 8 25 33 17
Maharashtra 5 13 3 4 8
Manipur 1
Odisha 3 6 6 4 3
Pondicherry 1 0
Punjab 1 5 8
Rajasthan 1 4 1 3 6
Tamil Nadu 11 5 5 12 14
Telangana 16 12 7
Tripura 2
Uttar Pradesh 3 2 18 22 25
Uttarakhand 1 1 4
West Bengal 3 1 1 7 3
TOTAL 130 151 146 177 134
 

Table 1: State-wide representation of Incidents of Violence against Christians (2012-16)

Source: Compiled from data available in the Evangelical Fellowship of India Annual Reports

 

 

State ‘04 ‘05 ‘06 ‘07 ‘08 ‘09 ‘10 ‘11 ‘12 ‘13 ‘14 ‘15
A & N 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
AP 13 10 24 13 17 17 16 33 60 15 5 4
Arunachal 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Assam 2 9 7 7 10 20 10 9 0 0 1 3
Bihar 43 35 40 26 25 40 40 26 21 63 61 71
Chandigarh 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Chhattisgarh 1 7 6 7 6 6 3 3 4 3 0 2
Delhi 3 6 7 6 5 9 3 4 3 2 7 5
D&N Haveli 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
D & D 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Goa 0 2 2 1 1 4 2 0 1 1 0 0
Gujarat 93 62 35 57 79 63 59 47 57 68 74 55
Haryana 1 2 2 2 4 4 0 1 2 2 4 3
Himachal 0 1 0 3 1 0 2 0 0 0 0 1
J & K 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 1 0 4 0 4
Jharkhand 16 19 20 18 29 20 13 12 11 12 10 28
Karnataka 72 48 49 64 108 110 71 70 69 73 73 105
Kerala 25 33 13 10 22 36 24 30 56 41 4 3
Lakshadweep 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
MP 94 112 137 180 131 106 103 81 92 84 56 92
Maharashtra 109 167 156 140 109 128 117 88 94 88 97 105
Manipur 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Meghalaya 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
Mizoram 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Nagaland 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Orissa 17 22 9 15 180 11 7 9 4 3 3 0
Pondicherry 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Punjab 1 2 2 5 1 0 1 0 2 2 0 0
Rajasthan 32 72 44 30 39 52 33 42 37 52 72 65
Sikkim 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Tamil Nadu 15 29 14 18 48 42 44 21 14 36 15 3
Telangana Nil Nil Nil Nil Nil Nil Nil Nil Nil Nil Nil 11
Tripura 1 0 0 0 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0
Uttarakhand 1 2 4 2 1 4 8 4 0 0 0 9
UP 127 121 113 138 114 159 121 84 118 247 133 155
West Bengal 11 18 14 18 10 17 21 15 23 24 16 27
Totals 677 779 698 761 943 849 701 580 668 823 644 751
Table 2: Instances of Communal Violence in India

Source: Compiled from data provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs

With these states already display a tendency towards anti-minority violence, there is a fear that tensions could be exasperated during election time leading to anti-minority violence. The state which is the most concerning is Karnataka which remains one of the few states in which the Indian National Congress remains in power. The elections (due by May this year) have already taken a communal character. With the phenomenal performance of the BJP in state elections since 2014, they will be anxious to take down Karnataka as one of the symbolic bastions of Congress rule in the country. While the Congress party is showing signs of a resurgence, see Karnataka as vital to ensuring that the party stays relevant and can build momentum leading to the 2019 national elections. With a lot to play for, this could be the spark in a state which experiences anti-Christian violence.

Image Credit: CC by Indian Elections/ Flickr