Indian Christians and the State Elections
For the past two weeks, headlines in Indian newspapers have been dominated by the results of the five state elections held in February and March. The states which held elections were Punjab, Manipur, Uttarakhand, Goa and Uttar Pradesh and are arguably the largest and most important in Indian politics. Due to the fractured nature of Indian politics, election results often set off a battle of horse trading for parties to form coalition governments. Now that the dust is settled, we can analyze these results with special reference to what it means for the country’s Christians.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) performed well overall. In Uttar Pradesh, it won 375 seats, which is more than three-quarters of the total. It also scored a decisive win in Uttarakhand. It formed a coalition government in Goa and Manipur with other parties; despite the Congress party securing more seats. Punjab was the only state it lost where the Congress party reclaimed power. After forming the government in four out of five states, it is safe to assume that these elections belonged to the BJP and is a continuation of BJP-dominance since the 2014 (national) Lok Sabha election. The party continues to focus its campaigning around the national prominence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. So much so that in the vital state of Uttar Pradesh, they campaigned without naming a Chief Minister candidate until after the results.
It is important to note that the results also reflect an anti-incumbency vote since all five states voted out their incumbent governments. However, the scale with which the BJP was elected into Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, the higher vote share it received (despite a smaller number of seats) in Goa and Manipur bring us to the next big takeaway – the decline of the Congress Party.
Much has already and can continue to be discussed about election strategy, implications of the results and the “new India” following the results, but I want to focus on the Christian community specifically. As a small minority in India, representing 2.3 per cent of the country’s population, Christians are not politically influential, nor do their numbers imply a deterrence against violence.
Christians have strongly supported the Congress party which espouses secular values (often seen as the best form of security for minorities living in India). While the Congress has had its fair share of ups and downs in national politics, we find ourselves in a new era in which the Congress has lost its gleam nationally, and maintains control of only five state legislatures (Karnataka and Punjab are the only two large states). This latest loss in state legislatures will see them cede the upper house to the BJP; which also strongly impacts the election of the President later this year. As the perceived defenders of India’s Christian population, the decline of the Congress party could mean further trouble.
This period of dominance by the BJP brings a new era of politics in India – one of BJP Hegemony. Previously, I have elaborated on the RSS (considered to be a sister organization of the BJP) understanding of the nation and the place of minorities within this nation. Confident that Modi subscribes to this similar understanding of the nation, the respected Indian Political Scientist Suhas Palshikar notes in his article, India’s Second Dominant Party System:
The conflation between nationalism and Hindutva has been the backbone of the new hegemony. That is why the BJP has been so happy with intellectuals trying to problematise the nation. That particular intellectual initiative simultaneously places the BJP in a position of immense advantage and ensures that “anti-BJP” would necessarily be equated with the anti-national! The mixing of the registers of nationalism and Hindutva adroitly strengthens the BJP’s new hegemony because while many people may not have any emotional connect with the idea of Hindutva, a majority certainly has an emotional investment in the idea of nation. Because the BJP succeeds in conflating these two, new recruits to Hindutva come from a cross-section of the society.
This fair assessment makes two points about the BJP strategy. The first that there is a defined strategy of creating nationalism combined with Hindutva (the BJP notion of a nation). And the second is that they are successful about repudiating opposition before they are even ready to oppose. The first point is evidenced by the appointment of the controversial Yogi Adityanath as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh.
While Uttar Pradesh remains the focus for most individuals, the success in Manipur is significant. The population of Manipur has an equal percentage of Hindus and Christians (around 42%). Even considering the high percentage of Christians in the state, the BJP dramatically increased its hold of seats to 21 (out of 60) this year, despite winning zero in the last elections in 2012. Manipur neighbours many other Christian majority states where the Congress party still remains in power. Can Manipur be seen as the start of BJP dominance in these states as well? Will it be the same in Southern India?
These are the questions hanging over Indian politics at the moment. One addition I would add is what will the place of religious minorites be in a country dominated by the BJP?
Image Credit: CC by Narendra Modi/Wikimedia Commons