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.
|Jammu & Kashmir||3||1||1|
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
|A & N||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|
|J & K||0||0||0||1||0||0||1||1||0||4||0||4|
|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