Indian Christians head to polls while fearing persecution | WORLD
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Indian Christians head to polls while fearing persecution

The country’s Hindu nationalist party is expected to hold on to power

A voter's finger is marked with indelible ink after casting a ballot in the national elections in India on Friday. Getty Images/Photo by Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

Indian Christians head to polls while fearing persecution

The world’s largest election begins today with nearly 970 million eligible voters, or over 10 percent of the world’s population. In the staggered voting that spans the next six weeks, Indians will cast their ballots via electronic machines at more than 1 million polling stations across the nation. They will decide on the members of the 543-seat Lok Sabha, the lower house of India’s parliament.

Incumbent Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is competing against a coalition of more than two dozen opposition parties, including the Indian National Congress, the second-biggest party after the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP. Polls have predicted a victory for the BJP, which would mean a third five-year term for 73-year-old Modi.

Under India’s parliamentary system with a bicameral legislature, the party or coalition of parties that wins a majority of at least 272 seats in the Lok Sabha will nominate a candidate for prime minister and form a government. More than 2,600 parties are vying for seats in the election, with results announced on June 4.

In the country where Hindus make up about 80 percent of the population, Muslims about 14 percent, and Christians less than 3 percent, many Christian voters “feel as though the future of the nation is hanging in the balance,” said Manish Mukherjee, an Indian pastor. (WORLD is not using his real name due to safety concerns.) Mukherjee said local Christians worry about the restriction of religious freedom in India and the safety of minorities.

According to Open Doors’ annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution, India is in 11th place, up from 28th in 2014, the year Modi came to power. Modi’s Hindu-first platform has boosted his widespread support. It has also contributed to the growth of Hindu extremism, fostering fear of persecution among Indian Christians and other religious minorities.

Earlier this year, Modi led the opening ceremony of a Hindu temple built on the ruins of a mosque. His government also announced a citizenship law that excludes Muslims. Critics say his platform undermines the secular principles enshrined in India’s constitution.

Among the key issues for voters are inflation, unemployment, and welfare policies. Modi has promised to expand India’s economy, currently the world’s fifth largest with a gross domestic product of roughly $3.7 trillion. He has pledged to raise the GDP to $5 trillion by 2027, which would bump the Indian economy to the world’s third largest. Modi has also vowed to transition India into a developed country by 2047, the centennial of the nation’s independence from British rule.

Mukherjee said Christian voters feel anxious that the country’s democracy and state institutions, including the judiciary, may be “compromised to a degree that what looks like a democracy will feel like a neo-monarchy.”

In the lead-up to the election, the opposition coalition has decried what it says are attempts by Modi’s government to rig the race. Authorities have detained prominent opposition politician and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, accusing him of corruption. They have also frozen the bank accounts of the opposition Indian National Congress party.

“Anyone who does not align with the prevailing religio-political ideology feels insecure about their place in the future of India,” said Mukherjee.

The National United Christian Forum—which includes the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, National Council of Churches in India, and Evangelical Fellowship of India—has called on Christian citizens to vote. The forum pointed out the election is an opportunity for voters to “elect representatives who will uphold the constitutional principles of equality . . . for all citizens.”

Mukherjee acknowledges that regardless of which party rules the country, Christians remain responsible before God to serve their neighbors, hold out the hope of the gospel, and pursue the nation’s best interests. “But many are concerned that our freedoms may not remain the same,” he said.

These summarize the news that I could never assemble or discover by myself. —Keith

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