The right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party has suffered a humiliating election defeat in Karnataka where it lost more than half of its seats, in a state where it has been accused of anti-Christian attacks.
Early results on Wednesday showed main rival the Congress Party looking set to win between 116 and 118 seats in the 223-member state assembly, with the pro-Hindu BJP taking just 38 to 40 seats from Sunday’s poll.
The BJP ruled the outgoing state assembly with 110 seats but may finish with less than half that total, despite bringing in prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi for the campaign.
“The BJP pursued anti-people and even largely anti-Christian policies,” Rashid Alvi, a senior Congress leader, said on Wednesday after the majority of results were finalized.
Regional outfit Janata Dal (Secular), which also fared well in the polls, had earlier released a separate manifesto for the Christian community.
The manifesto had promised setting up a welfare board for Christians, protection for churches and visits to Jerusalem and Rome.
Recently more than 70 Christian pastors told a people’s tribunal in state capital Bangalore how Karnataka police allegedly arrested them and kept them confined in police stations or jails on false charges.
Earlier this month, the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) alleged that since the BJP had come to power in Karnataka in 2008 attacks against Christians had multiplied, while other religious minorities in the state had felt increasingly threatened.
GCIC president Sajan K George said 41 attacks against Christians were recorded in the state last year and in 2013 the number was already at seven.
“However, these figures only refer to destroyed churches and imprisoned or assaulted Christians,” he said. “If we were to account for every episode of intimidation, harassment, insults or temporary detentions, the number would be much higher.”
The BJP has been accused of supporting sporadic anti-Christian violence in Karnataka since 2008, when 24 churches and prayer halls were attacked by Hindu extremist group Bajrang Dal (Party of the Strong and Stout) following accusations of forced conversions.
Critics of the BJP say that its main agenda has been to gain favor with the militant pro-Hindu militant group Hindutva by attacking religious minorities.
Christians account for only two percent of the 61.13 million population of Karnataka but their numbers are sizeable in several constituencies.