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India

Religion and nationalism mark Indian poll

A report prepared for the US Congress sees scope for future one-party dominance

ucanews.com reporter, New Delhi

ucanews.com reporter, New Delhi

Updated: April 15, 2019 04:10 AM GMT
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Religion and nationalism mark Indian poll

Indians queue to vote on April 11 during the nation's general election in Amoni village of north-eastern Assam state. (Photo by Biju Boro/AFP)

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A report prepared for the United States Congress has stated that India's unfolding national elections could give rise to a long period of dominance by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"Perhaps more crucially, the election pits an unabashedly Hindu nationalist prime minister and ruling party against an array of more secular-minded parties, some focused on the interests of India's large lower-caste and Muslim minorities," said the report.

It noted that while coalition governments are sometimes faulted for instability, they could also compel leaders to negotiate and take account of a wider variety of perspectives.

However, a government with an overwhelming majority could lead to "complacency and arrogance", according to the report produced by the Congressional Research Service, which does not necessarily reflect official U.S. policies or attitudes.

India April 11 began a seven-phased election for 900 million voters to chose 543 members of the national parliament. However, international political and rights groups are apprehensive that Hindu communalism is tarnishing the political process.

The U.S. report noted use by Modi and the BJP of religion and nationalism to generate enthusiasm among voters, an estimated 80 percent of them Hindus.

It notes that voters face a landmark choice between two overarching identities for their country — one, a pluralist, secular polity where religious minorities enjoy full equality; the other, a nation in which roughly 250 million non-Hindu citizens must accept Hindu majoritarianism, with potentially dire consequences for India's civil liberties.

"The February 2019 bombing in Kashmir, blamed on a Pakistan-based terrorist group, and an unprecedented retaliatory air strike on Pakistani territory, pushed foreign affairs into the headlines and triggered a sharp spike of Indian nationalism that is widely expected to benefit the incumbent BJP," the report said.

Another report, published by the United Nations, maintains that there has been a substantial increase in so-called "cow vigilante violence" targeting religious minorities since 2015.

Protection of cows, which are a sacred animal in orthodox Hinduism, has been a hallmark of BJP political campaigning, not least when it came to power nationally in 2014.

In the latest case on April 10, Shaukat Ali, a Muslim man from Assam state in India's northeast, was beaten on a road and forced to eat pork, a prohibited meat in his Islamic faith, as punishment by local Hindus for him selling beef.

Indian Christians have been among those standing up against such abuses.

"We condemn the violence against any community in any form and specially if the community is a minority then the majority community is duty bound to protect it," said Indian bishops' conference secretary general Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas.

The church leader said elections should be fought on the basis of development, jobs, employment and progress for all.

“They cannot be fought on hatred and violence,” Bishop Mascarenhas said.

"We cannot accept marginalisation of any community.”

Mukhtiyaar Ahmad, a New Delhi based author, said an impression had been created in some election campaigning that non-Hindus, particularly Muslims and Christians, are not real Indians. 

Ahmad referred to a recent speech by the BJP leader and chief minister of India's northern Uttar Pradesh state, Yogi Adityanath, who equated the election to a contest between Ali and Bajrang Bali.

Ali is a grandson of the Prophet Mohammad revered in Islam while the Monkey God Bajrang Bali is championed by Hindus.

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