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(Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

India (MNN) -- India is playing host to the biggest democratic election in history, with some 600-900 million registered voters setting the course of history. Joe Handley mentors Christian leaders in both Nepal and India. He says the make-up of India's Parliament is at stake. Until now, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) dictated the tenor of government. However, after a recent defeat cost the BJP 17 seats in the Assembly, people hoped that the change loosened their hold on power.

Promises, Promises

Handley explains, “They rose to power under an economic platform as well as a platform to say ‘we’re going to protect our people and take care of them’.” Yet voters believe they’ve done the opposite. As a result, “Many have said that they were disillusioned when they voted for BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) originally, and now they’re going to vote against them.” In the run-up to the polls which opened on April 11, Hindu extremists attacked Christians with near impunity. “January and February alone had a jump of about 57-percent from the previous year. These attacks have been rising ever since BJP came to power. People are obviously concerned and they’re worried about losing their freedoms.” Note that this number is only an estimate as increasing numbers of persecution acts go unreported. Handley observes that discrimination and persecution of religious minorities spiked so suddenly, even human rights watchdog groups took notice. “Many of those who have attacked the minority groups, whether they’re Muslims, Catholics, Christians or others, tend to get protection from the State. It’s a real challenge. Many people are getting away with murder, atrocities, and persecution.”

Challenges Ahead

(Image courtesy of Open Doors)

Christians also voiced concerns over election rigging and intimidation tactics throughout the month-long voting process. Voters choose over 500 members of the lower chamber of parliament over the coming weeks. BJP's main rival is the Indian National Congress party. Handley explains, “This election is pivotal. We ask that you would pray that God would open up more righteous government leaders, people of justice that would come in and truly would protect the rights of minorities.” Already, challenges mount. Increased government scrutiny makes normal operations challenging, he adds. “One of the Christian leaders that I spoke with mentioned that it’s getting very difficult to operate under normal circumstances. They’re having to go covert with normal activities that, a year ago, were really no problem.”

Be An Advocate

(Photo credit: India Partners)

What’s more, India's borders won't likely contain the impact of its election results. ”The pressure coming from BJP and Prime Minister Modi has influenced the Nepali government as well, and they’re cracking down at the same rate. Christians are really concerned. They’re asking us to pray for them, to advocate for them, to come alongside them.” Handley says Christian leaders feel that India isn't making room for them. “In terms of the Christians I know, they’re very concerned. But as well, Muslims, any minority group, is under significant pressure because the BJP really wants to create a Hindu nation.” According to the 2019 World Watch List released by Open Doors, India ranks tenth on a listing of 50 countries where it is most dangerous to be a Christian. Although the top positions are spoken for, Handley reminds us that, “The elections do matter. We encourage people to pray for the people of India as they vote. Hopefully, they can swing some tides in this current election.”     Headline photo courtesy Vvpatindia/Wikimedia