In the recent state elections, the BJP became part of the ruling coalition in Nagaland and Meghalaya. Christians account for almost 75% of the population in Meghalaya and 88% in Nagaland. The BJP also rules Arunachal Pradesh, where Christians are the largest single religious group (30.2%), though short of a majority.
This is amazing. On social media, right-wing trolls exude hate against Christians for attempting to convert Hindus. In 2022 there were over 550 violent attacks on Christians which, the United Christian Front (UCF), an Indian NGO, claims is the largest annual figure ever.
Open Doors International, a global Christian organisation, alleges that anti-Christian violence has soared since the BJP became a national political force in the 1990s, and reached new heights after the party came to office in New Delhi in 2014. Open Doors now ranks India as the tenth most dangerous place in the world for Christians. India was not even in the top 30 before 2014. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom lists India as a Tier-1 country in religious persecution, keeping company with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China, and North Korea.
Christian organisations allege that many churches have been burned, priests beaten up, graveyards desecrated, and Christian hamlets destroyed. This gives the Congress phenomenal ammunition to attack the BJP in Christian-majority states. It could have gone to town with this. It could have launched a ‘Christian Lives Matter’ campaign, analogous to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign in the US.
But the party is not interested. After losing the 2014 general election, it convinced itself that it lost because it was perceived as a party that pandered to the minorities at the expense of Hindus. The analysis was false. But it abandoned its once-famed hard secularism and attempted a soft Hindutva line that got it nowhere. A faint echo of the real thing will not win votes.
The Congress had an opportunity to taint the BJP as a party of anti-Christian violence, flooding social media with hard evidence of attacks on Christians.
Narendra Modi will tell you he is proud to be a Hindu, a Gujarati, and a Hindu nationalist. Is Rahul Gandhi proud of what he is? Is he proud that his mother, Sonia, is a Christian? Or that his grandfather, Feroze Gandhi, was a Parsi? Or that his brother-in-law, Robert Vadra, is a Christian, and his aunt, Maneka Gandhi, is a Sikh? Does he say he is proud to belong to a family that puts together all that is best in the diversity of India, rejecting narrow communal identities and extolling secular inclusion?
Alas, no. Instead, he seeks to portray himself as a Shiv bhakt wearing a sacred thread. That ploy has failed miserably. He gets fewer votes than ever. Yet he persists.
After the Bharat Jodo Yatra, I thought I saw a new strength and purpose in Rahul. He attacked Veer Savarkar and the BJP from the Red Fort, saying that the party kept crying ‘Hindu-Muslim’ to divert attention from its economic failures and crony capitalism. That looked like the start of a new secularism.
It was a false dawn. He lacked both the conviction and fire in the belly to take the offensive in the Northeast as a protector of Christians and other oppressed minorities against Hindu violence. His party did not mount a serious, aggressive campaign. And so, it sank in an area it had traditionally dominated.
The Congress has lost its way in territory where the BJP’s Hindu nationalism should be a severe handicap
Truth be told, no national party has deep roots in the Christian states of the Northeast. Politics there is dominated by local tribal leaders, opportunists who tend to align themselves with whichever party is in office in New Delhi, to smoothen centre-state relations. This is an important reason for the advantage the BJP has today.
Yet the Congress had an opportunity to taint the BJP as a party of anti-Christian violence, flooding social media with hard evidence of attacks on Christians. It chose not to. It seems to think that adopting the role of ‘protector of minorities’ is a liability in the rest of India. It refuses to acknowledge that this approach has failed miserably.
The Congress needs to return to its proud historical roots. It must proclaim a return to the secularism of Gandhi, Nehru and other stalwarts. Rahul can hold a weekly satsang at which people sing Gandhi’s songs such as ‘Ishwar Allah Tero Naam’, to which can be added ‘Ishwar Jesus Tero Naam’. That will show, as Gandhi did, that a committed Hindu can also be a committed secularist and protector of minorities.