The surprise defeat of the Hindu Nationalist BJP-ruled alliance has sent shock waves across the nation. One national newspaper headlined the election results as "Shock and Awesome". This was a result no one expected. Most opinion polls predicted victory for the BJP alliance, while the exit polls predicted at the worst a hung parliament where the BJP would be able to gobble up an alliance once more.
At the bi-annual All India Christian Council conference in March 2004, in Hyderabad, we declared to the over 1,000 Christian leaders gathered from different parts of the nation that this election was going to be a make or break election. We urged the Christian leaders to pray and act. Around India much prayer went up for the nation. I was at a meeting in Chennai for 2,000 Christian leaders gathered for a day of prayer and fasting.
The BJP had taken control of the education system in India, rewriting textbooks and history books, getting full control of universities and was far into the process of indoctrinating the children and youth of the nation. It was giving State funds to RSS-run schools.
Further, the BJP manifesto of 2004 blatantly declared that they would bring a national anti-conversion law. Sangh Parivar outfits who attacked Christians were going free. Muslim victims of the Gujarat carnage still looked for justice.
The BJP had not backed down in its attempt to alter the Constitution given to the nation by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the towering Dalit leader.
On the back of the economic boom in India among the middle classes, the BJP alliance launched the election propaganda "India Shining." The BJP publicity managers forgot that for the 800 million Indians who are poor, oppressed, backward, Dalits, and minority, India was far from shining. For Indian farmers in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, India had become a nightmare and farmers were committing suicide regularly. In some districts of Orissa, people starved even though the food granaries were full. In Gujarat, the new anti-terrorism law was used to put hundreds of innocent people in jails without recourse to the courts.
In a surprise spontaneous move of public anger, the masses—the downtrodden, the poor, the Dalits and even the urban unemployed—all joined together to throw out the BJP-led alliance.
The Tamil Nadu government, which brought the infamous anti-conversion law, and a BJP ally, did not win a single seat to Parliament. In Andhra Pradesh, the local party, an ally of the BJP, was ousted completely at the local and national level. The BJP did not get a single seat to Parliament from Andhra Pradesh. Top ministers of the BJP government, some of whom engaged in hate speech against the minorities and Dalits were defeated in the North and the South.
It was in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in North India that the BJP alliance received its biggest setback through the consolidation of backward caste, Dalit and minority votes. Even in Gujarat, the BJP's presence in Parliament was brought down significantly.
To our great surprise, the Indian Left (which is quite different from the Left in other nations) who have supported us consistently in the fight for religious freedom, had landslide victories and got 62 seats in Parliament. This is the largest number they have received since independence.
The next few days will see the formation of a Congress-led alliance of secular democratic forces that are committed to the Constitution of India. Most probably, the Prime Minister will be Sonia Gandhi who was the subject of intense personal attacks because she is a foreigner. The Indian Constitution deliberately framed that all citizens of India would have full rights and that citizenship rights would not be determined by birth … individual rights have been determined by birth according to the oppressive caste system. Sonia became an Indian citizen soon after she married Rajiv Gandhi. If Sonia does become the Prime Minister of India, it will be an historic moment in Indian history and a major triumph for the Indian Constitution.
Civil society is now looking forward to the rejection of the Hindutva agenda that has affected many areas of Indian life. A national anti-conversion law is now out of the question. Most certainly, there will be a review of the anti-terrorism laws that have been used to victimize the innocent. Civil society wants immediate review of the education department. Most importantly the oppressed peoples, the Dalits, will receive more attention.
For all of us in the leadership of the Christian Council, this election and the last seven years have been a demonstration of the power of God when we are united, pray and act. The All India Christian Council is a major Christian alliance, as well as a human rights organization. Our small role in civil society, the human rights fraternity, and the influencing of the political processes in the nation is now accepted by most of the political formations in the nation. Many of our non-Christian friends will be in the Government. A couple of the lay leaders of the Christian Council will be in Parliament and in a few local State governments. To top it all, here in Andhra Pradesh we will have a Christian Chief Minister.
Our analysis on the Christian persecution? It will continue and perhaps increase at the State level where the BJP is in power, and we will have to work harder to protect and serve the new Christians in the troubled states of Gujarat and Orissa. The Sangh Parivar groups are expected to create communal tension and problems to vitiate the social atmosphere. Attacks on evangelistic work will continue.
But at the national level, we expect change. We expect the national government not to condone the harassment of minorities and the Dalits. We also expect the processes of justice to be expedited. We expect religious freedom and the freedom to exercise all our spiritual and social rights.
Pray for India.
Joseph D'Souza is president of the All India Christian Council.
Viewpoints published in "Speaking Out" do not necessarily represent those of Christianity Today.
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See also today's related news story, "Indian Churches Hail the Defeat of Hindu-Nationalist Government | 'Vote consciously' campaign urged Christian voters to elect secular political parties."
Other articles on India include:
India Undaunted | Escalating repression can't seem to dampen the church's growth. (April 28, 2004)
The Immense Commission | Most postal areas still don't have any Christian workers living in them. (April 28, 2004)
Watch Those Web Postings | What Indians say American Christians should, and shouldn't, do to help. (April 28, 2004)
Blockbuster Evangelism | Millions have been converted after seeing films about Jesus, and Hindu radicals are responding with violence. (Nov. 26, 2003)
Hindu Leaders Crack Down on Conversions | Potential converts must ask permission (Oct. 13, 2003)
Power in Punjab | Christians see churches—and opposition—grow among Sikhs. (June 18, 2003)
Fending off Hindutva | Indian Christians blast Nazi-like survey, "draconian" conversion law. (May 16, 2003)