India: “The government has used nationalist and religious extremism to raise false propaganda against Christians”

The world’s most populated country is in the midst of a key general election. “People are afraid that there will be no more elections afterwards”, says an evangelical.

Jonatán Soriano , Evangelical Focus

Protestante Digital · NEW DELHI · 14 MAY 2024 · 16:35 CET

Photo: <a target="_blank" href="">Mikita Yo</a>, Unsplash, CC0.,
Photo: Mikita Yo, Unsplash, CC0.

India continues to advance in its parliamentary elections, with almost one billion people called to the polls. The large country has already held four of the seven phases in which the elections are divided in the regions.

After speaking with the secretary general of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), Vijayesh Lal, Spanish news website Protestante Digital contacted an Indian evangelical Christian nowadays living in Spain who is closely following the electoral process from the distance.

During the interview in a coffee shop, with the noise in the background, he reminds us to keep his identity anonymous to protect his life and his family. “They would come after me”, he says.


Question. How are they experiencing the new elections there?

Answer. Elections in India are like a festival. It is the largest democracy in the world, in terms of the number of voters, and almost everyone wants to participate. The problem is that there are things that do not work with the expected transparency.


Q. Both Narendra Modi and his party, the BJP, are once again favourites in the elections. What can we expect from these elections?

A. The main problem is that all the anti-BJP parties are very divided and do not have the same opportunities for media coverage, or for receiving donations, as the ruling party.

The media are under much pressure and most of the mainstream media are owned by big companies that are supporting the BJP.

On the one hand there is democracy, but on the other hand there is no transparency. Even the judiciary and the strongest institutions are heavily manipulated to spread fear and strengthen the power of the ruling party. It happened before, but much more so now.

Many political leaders of former parties who were under investigation for corruption are using the BJP's "filter" to close their cases.

Many media and TV are blasting the population with the idea that Modi is going to win. There is a significant part of the population that lives under manipulation. In the end, if people live under the belief that Modi will win, it is as if he had already won.

The Indian National Congress party has been debunked by the media little by little, over the last ten years. Many people do not know the history and do not know that it is the historic party of the country, which fought for and won independence.

Many people, especially young people, get their information through social media, where most things are false, and that is especially punishing the Indian National Congress. As they are not very strong economically either, it's hard for them to resuscitate and regain power.


Q. There have been some tensions on the border with China in recent years.

A. Modi is tough, but only on smaller countries. Since Modi took office, trade relations with China and Russia, among others, have increased.

Modi will use the weaknesses of countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka or the Maldives, but when he has to take decisions against the big ones, he turns a blind eye. China has been occupying many border posts, not now but since the last decade, and there has never been a stern response.

When the BJP wants to use religion or target another country in elections, it is always against Pakistan.


Q. If the opposition party Indian National Congress were to win, would that change?

A. No, it would take time, although the international policies of the Congress seem better than those of the BJP at the social level.

They, as secularists, put emphasis on benefit for all castes, just like our Constitution. People are afraid that if the BJP wins again there will be a benefit for the elites and also that after this election there will be no more elections. A similar trend to what Putin has done in Russia.

Bank accounts of the Indian National Congress have been disqualified, so that they cannot spend much money. Many opponents are in court proceedings, so that they either cannot stand for election, or do not have the resources to do so.

This reality is not observed at the international level because of economic interests.


Q. What do you think are the main challenges the new government will face?

A. If the BJP wins again, there is no pressure for them. They can do whatever they want. Even England, Europe or the US tolerate Modi in their demands, because they need him against China or Russia. He also uses that international weakness to be able to carry out his programs.

If the Indian National Congress or a coalition government comes in, I think it would be good for India. This country has grown the most during the times of coalition governments, such as those of Narasimha Rao or Manmohhan Singh.


Q. To what extent is it important for the rights of religious minorities and religious freedom what happens in these elections?

A. Since the BJP and several extremist organisations have been in power, the situation of Christians and other religious minorities, such as Muslims and Sikhs, has worsened.

Modi recently inaugurated a Hindu temple, something a religious leader should have done. His figure has been deified in a way, and his image appears as someone who is very religious, very dominant and very strong, but in reality he is very afraid.

Some have even placed Modi above the Hindu god Rama, creating images and even statues of him. There are temples in honour of Modi. This has never happened before with any prime minister.

Permits for Christians to receive donations from abroad have been cancelled and we are always accused of buying people to change their religion. In Manipur, for example, Christians are very marginalised everywhere.

The Indian National Congress party, along with all other parties, also use Christians as scapegoats and do not give representative positions to Christian politicians in their ranks.

A new BJP victory would further damage the situation of religious freedom: right now there are 14 states in India where a person of Hindu origin cannot freely convert to Christianity.


Q. How has Hinutva ideology influenced this issue over the last few years?

A. The government has used nationalist and religious extremism to draw attention to and raise false propaganda against Christians, especially missionaries and churches.

Many churches have been burned down and many pastors have been imprisoned. They can no longer even give an evangelistic tract or pray for another person in public. Penal codes have been changed to justify those abuses, especially in the North.


Q. How would you describe the situation of religious freedom compared to ten years ago?

A. It has worsened significantly. Everything is controlled in the media and social media, even traditions, such as food and clothing.

The government wants citizens to be what it wants them to be, with no religious freedom, nor freedom of speech. Pastors and missionaries are very badly treated.


Q. Is there much impunity for attacks on Christians?

A. So far in the history of India there has never been a mob of Christians attacking other religious or social groups. However, Christians are attacked.

Christianity in India is the only religion that does not attack, but it is always under attack. The question is why the government says it can do nothing, yet people who convert to Christianity radically change their lives from crime and drug addiction to civilised, tax-paying lives. It makes no sense that such people would then be disadvantaged.

The representation of religious minorities in the government is virtually non-existent. Modi has not had any Christian or Muslim ministers, only Hindus.


Q. How are you living all this from here, in Spain?

A. Very badly. Here in Spain, if you want to open a Hindu temple, they give you all kinds of facilities, subsidies and licences. However, there are churches that still fight with the government to normalise their situation, so the European governments also show a double face.

Even here, when we have gone out on the streets to evangelise, Hindu extremists, Sikhs or Pakistani Catholics have tried to stop us. They do not want us to go to their shops to leave a leaflet or to speak.

No country speaks out against India or Pakistan because of the situation of their religious minorities. But if something happens to Muslims, or Palestine, or Israel, then they do. No government can face up to all the extremism in India.


Q. How can Christians pray for India and the church there?

A. Above all, I ask to pray that Christians will unite and stop thinking about denominations. We must love each other, we are part of one body. It is important for the church to be united to defend our faith. If we are divided we will be defeated, not winners, we will be defeated.

It is also important that we have political and economic representation, not just religious representation. Let us pray that God will raise up his children in all these areas.

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