Indian Christians have little reason to rejoice in Modi’s Gujarat
There is little hope or assurance of adequate political representation in upcoming provincial polls
Archbishop Thomas Macwan (center) of Gandhinagar and Catholic worshipers from West Gujarat state celebrate the canonization of Mother Teresa at the campus of St. Xavier’s College Church, Ahmedabad on September 4, 2016. (AFP )
Abandoned, unwanted and vastly underrepresented, that’s how religious minorities, including Christians, feel in the western Indian state of Gujarat – Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state.
The alienation is so complete that the majority of Christians or Muslims living there are resigned to their fate as second-class citizens in this ‘model state’ which owes much to Modi’s development-oriented governance as prime minister. from 2001 to 2014.
Marginalized communities do not hide their disillusion with both the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress, which swears by secular-liberal values but practices a softer version of “Hindutva” (Hindu nationalism) .
Naturally, the minorities are seething with anger at being systematically reduced to insignificance – it’s as if they don’t matter in Gujarat. As the Provincial Assembly polls approach, their political destiny hangs in the balance.
There is little hope or assurance of adequate political representation for Christians or Muslims here. And there is little or no other option.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which rose from the ashes of a nationwide crusade against corruption in 2012 and rules Delhi and Punjab in the north, has entered the fray and forged an alliance with the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTS ), headed by the strongman of the tribe Chhotu Vasava, himself a legislator.
“Census figures show that Christians form barely 0.50% of Gujarat’s 63 million people, but their numbers in about 10 assembly segments, particularly in the southern tribal belt”
But Christians, who are quite numerous in the southern Gujarat tribal belt, are keeping their fingers crossed when it comes to the number of nominations they might expect for their co-religionists.
The BJP has never bothered to give the Christian community adequate representation in the State Assembly election, while the Congress indulges in a mere token gesture – repeating the nomination of the sole Christian candidate, Punaji Gamit, for the last four terms.
Even Gamit’s nomination is under threat due to a campaign by pro-Hindu forces, but the Congress would still like to continue its successful run so far.
Christians are restless but there is little room for negotiation in the next assembly polls, scheduled for November.
“Besides the single constituency represented by a Protestant, the Christian community now wants at least nine other candidates to be fielded in other predominantly Christian constituencies,” Dinesh Gamit, a prominent tribal activist from Vyara in the UCA News, told UCA News. southern district of Tapi. .
Census figures show that Christians form just 0.50% of Gujarat’s 63 million people; but their number in about 10 assemblage segments, especially in the southern tribal belt, is estimated at about 30-60%, which is attributed to large-scale conversions in recent decades.
It is not for nothing that the 27 precincts of the tribal belt were considered a stronghold of Congress. But since the post-Dangs saffron push in 1998, the once-dominant party tally has fallen from 17 to just a dozen seats now.
To be fair, the BJP and Congress are nominating Christian candidates for local elections in predominantly Christian pockets. But they also ensure that no winning Christian will rise to a position of power at the village, block or district level, says Haresh Gamit, a Christian activist based in South Gujarat.
At present, about 15 elected Christian members sit in different local bodies in the southern tribal districts of Gujarat, most of them from the Congress, but also from the BJP.
“But when it comes to elections for the provincial assembly or the parliament, Christian will not be nominated. It sure is,” Haresh told UCA News.
He also sensed a “political conspiracy” in what he called “preventing Christian leaders from gaining influence.”
He is right. If one more Christian legislator comes to the Gujarat Assembly, there is bound to be a demand for one of them to be appointed to the Indian Parliament.
The Congress and the BJP, or even the AAP, whatever their ideologies, will not want this.
“The systematic marginalization of Muslims since the sectarian violence of 2002 has meant that they do not even think about political mobilization, for fear of being considered anti-Hindu”
Muslims in Gujarat, who make up 12% of the state’s population, are already demanding their fair share of the election pie.
Muslims don’t want to be taken for granted, but they too aren’t in a defiant mood yet. Like Christians, they express their anger and frustration at the lack of adequate political representation, but do not expect a miracle anytime soon.
Like Christians in tribal areas, Muslims also have an additional option in the form of PAA. Ideally, they should have 17 to 18 people in the 182-seat state assembly. Right now they only have three legislators.
The systematic marginalization of Muslims since the sectarian violence of 2002 has meant that they do not even think about political mobilization for fear of being seen as anti-Hindus.
In contrast, the Hindu Patels, who make up 14% of the population, plan to secure at least 50 nominations from the BJP and Congress.
Muslims, like Christians, feel abandoned with little or no future in the political landscape of Gujarat. The BJP openly and brazenly shuns them and the Congress does not want to be seen promoting their candidacies.
This situation has been brewing since the 1980s and both the BJP and Congress have contributed to it, by design or by default.
There was a time, in the 1980s, when Gujarat had three Muslim parliamentarians and a dozen legislators thanks to the political hegemony of Congress.
The sectarian riots of the 1980s and 1990s after the demolition of the Babri Mosque, followed by widespread violence after the Godhra train fire in 2002, further marginalized Muslims.
BJP’s successful run in Gujarat, whether in state or national polls, continues to this day. The pro-Hindu party looks virtually unstoppable as the state gears up for assembly elections in just five months.
Congress is still trying to get rid of the minority appeasement label, with little success.
Gujarat’s political landscape shows how electoral politics in India plummeted to depths no one could have imagined until 2014, when its chief minister Modi became prime minister.
Beyond the symbolism, there seems to be little hope for Muslims or Christians in the “Gujarat model” of politics.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.