India's evangelicals fear more persecution if Modi is re-elected

A man climbs down after partially chipping out the cross from the entrance of his house, after taking part in a religion conversion ceremony from Christianity to Hinduism, at Hasayan town in Uttar Pradesh August 29, 2014.Reuters/Adnan Abidi

Hundreds of millions of Indians are casting their votes in the world's biggest democratic elections, but the country's evangelicals fear that another term under Narendra Modi will not be good news for Christians. 

Vijayesh Lal, General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, told Spanish website Protestante Digital that the competing parties have carried out a "very vicious campaign". 

"People have not kept the boundaries of common decency, be it the ruling party or the opposition," he said. 

Up to 900 million eligible voters have been selecting their representatives since the polls opened on April 11.  Modi, a staunch Hindu nationalist, has led the country since 2014 but Indians will have to wait until May 23 to find out whether he has managed to secure his re-election.

Mr Lal is worried about the prospect of Modi and the BJP ruling for another term.  He says they are a "threat" to India's democracy and minority groups. 

"Modi's government have closed its eyes when minorities have been attacked," he said, adding that it had "continuously promoted an anti-minority speech without thinking about the consequences".

"That kind of speech worked in 2014 and some elections after that, but I hope it will not work in these elections," he said.

Under Modi's government, India has slipped down the Open Doors World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians suffer the most persecution. 

In 2016, it ranked 17th, but in the most recent list published in January this year, it was at number 10.  The change in ranking is significant because it is the first time India has been in the top 10 world's worst persecutors. 

Explaining the decision, Open Doors said: "The BJP-led government promotes an extremist militant Hindu message. To put it simply, the message is that to be Indian, you have to be Hindu." 

One pastor told Open Doors that the BJP had "done nothing for Christians and other minorities".

"All the decisions they make are against minorities. I fear for the future of my country and my family, especially my children," the pastor said.

A report from EFI's Religious Liberty Commission published soon after the Open Doors World Watch List cited 77 incidents of hatred and violence against Christians in the first two months of 2019 alone, up from 49 in the same period last year.

The situation is particularly serious for Christians in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where 40 per cent of the 325 recorded attacks on Christians in India last year occurred.

Mr Lal said India's Christians were being attacked "almost on a daily basis".

"Physical violence remains a constant, as well as gender violence. Christian women are constantly attacked or targetted," he said, adding that false accusations against Christian pastors and evangelists were also a problem and that many believers no longer feel safe even praying in their homes.

"Generally, the government does not respond when religious freedom is violated," he said. 

He warned that the elections were a "fight to see if India will remain as the world's largest democracy or not" and that he was praying for a government that would be "close to the heart of God".

"If Modi wins again, the persecution of Christians and Muslims in India will continue to grow. If Modi doesn't win and somebody else comes, maybe somebody of the BJP or the candidate of the Congress, even then, we think the persecution will continue," he told Protestante Digital.