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 Global Perspective

November 24, 2004
Vol. 2, No. 30

global perspective
Fr. Dominic Emmanuel, a priest of the Divine Word, is the director of the communication and information bureau of the Delhi Catholic archdiocese.



While the BJP led government fell at the center, their anti-minority rhetoric is far from over, and as one analyst observed, "The BJP may be down but they are not out."

Indian minorities are again anxious

'The BJP may be down but they are not out'

By Dominic Emmanuel, SVD

NEW DELHI -- The recent American elections are just over creating not only excitement before and during the whole process. There is a seeming division in the country with no clear mandate for any individual or a single party.

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Nearly six months ago, India, the largest democracy in the world, underwent similar excitement. The election result in India had similarities and differences to the recent U.S. elections. To the extent that no single party got a clear majority to rule the country they were alike, but they were different in that while the American people retained the incumbent president, in India it was a new government and party that took charge.

A new government always brings new hope to the people. The similarity the new government, led by the grand old Congress party, shares with the former is that it too is a coalition of many parties. The major difference is that while the former government was led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, known as a right-wing Hindu party, the current government's policy leans towards India's minorities and its stated view on "secularism." In India secularism means, equal respect for all religions.

The former government swore by a nationalism that envisaged a Hindu Nation and has been traditionally defined in a way that only those who considered India as their 'fatherland' (Pitrabhu) and 'holy land' (Punyabhu) could claim to be its real citizens. By this definition Jews (a small number), Muslims, Christians and Zoroastrians would be considered aliens. Or if they wished to live in India, they could live only as second class citizens. It was in this context that the attacks by certain Hindu groups on many Christian institutions and personnel over the past six years have to be seen. Thus the election results certainly brought a breath of fresh air and were good news for minorities.

Perceiving that the election result was an indictment on the previous government's attitude towards minorities, the Tamil Nadu state government immediately withdrew a controversial "anti-conversion law," which was aimed mainly at the Muslims and Christians, the latter being always accused of trying to convert the Hindus. This was seen as a major pro-minority move.

The minority communities in the country are, however, watching with cynical amusement not only the inability of the BJP to cope with and accept the defeat but also the worst kind of intra party squabbling currently on display. This was witnessed in their acting as an irresponsible opposition: disrupting the functioning of the Parliament on non-issues and wasting public money.

The more recent victory of the secular Congress and National Congress Party in two states spelt further bad news for the BJP. Normally a defeat of the right wing Hindu party should herald good news for the minorities, though this time it is not exactly so. The two defeats forced the BJP to consider major changes to its leadership. At the beginning of this month, a relatively younger party President Venkaiha Naidu, 52, stepped aside for the old guard L.K. Advani, 78, a main player in the demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992 by Hindu fundamentalists. Bringing back Advani to revive the flagging fortunes of the party is a desperate move.

No sooner had Advani taken the reins of the party in hand than he announced the return of the BJP to the core Hindutva ideology which defines, among other things, Muslims and Christians as unpatriotic and enemies of the Hindus. Fearing that a large majority of Indians do not support a Hindutva ideology, some of the coalition partners that helped the BJP ruled for six years raised voices of dissent, only to later fall in line. Perhaps they hope lady luck would smile at them again and they could come back to power, sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile the Hindu groups that are considered the foot soldiers of the BJP remain active. Thus a recent attack on Missionaries of Charity sisters in the southern state of Kerala, came as a rude shock to the Christian community. K.S. Sudarshan, chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Voluntary Corps) has not stopped his anti-minority rhetoric.

In the most recent and dramatic event, the Shankaracharya of Kanchi temple, Swami Jayendra Saraswati, considered to be one of the holiest Hindu priests of a highly sacred temple, was arrested on charges of murder. A spokesperson of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) Praveen Togadia said, "The police should go and arrest the pope in Rome as the leader of the ruling Congress party, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi of Italian origin, is a Christian and the arrest of the Shankaracharya was a Christian conspiracy."

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All this shows that while the BJP led government fell at the center, their anti-minority rhetoric is far from over and as one analyst observed, "The BJP may be down but they are not out." With Advani as the new party BJP chief, the minorities are once again anxious. It is precisely for this reason that Archbishop Vincent M. Concessao of New Delhi wrote Advani two weeks ago: "We would be also happy to know about the party's stand with regard to the minorities and that India belongs only to those who consider it as their Pitrbhu and Punyabhu?

"It would be much appreciated if it is clearly stated. Otherwise the concern and anxiety will remain," Concessao wrote.

The Christian community awaits Advani's reply.

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