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Christians inch closer to BJP: Minorities reconciling to love-hate ties with Modi regime

1/2/2019

New Delhi, After ringing in the New Year amid hyped politics over Triple Talaq and related issues, the religious minorities would be staring at the new calendar year with anxiety and much excitement as the country heads for parliamentary polls with religious polarisation probably on cards. For all obvious reasons, the religious minorities in India - especially Muslims and Christians - have continued to reel under love-hate relationship with the BJP-led Narendra Modi dispensation even as the year gone by 2018 offered interesting tales with Christians especially in northeast trying to evolve a neo-relationship of political faith with the saffron party. BJP now has its own government in Tripura, which has substantial tribal Christians, while it has deputy chief minister in Nagaland and also shares power in Meghalaya. Almost similar to beginning of 2018, the New Year too has begun on debate and deliberations in Parliament and outside and social interactions on the vexed Triple Talaq issue. The government piloted The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill has yet again come up for debate in Rajya Sabha as the Lower House has given its nod to the draft law for second time. The Muslim political leaders and organisations such as All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) have been stating that any legal course against the social practice would be 'against' the principles of Shariah and an interference in Muslim personal law. During debate in Lok Sabha, vocal Muslim lawmaker Asaduddin Owaisi of AIMIM said the provisions of the proposed law were against the principle of preamble of the Constitution which clearly guarantees 'liberty of thought, expression, belief and worship". However, the claim was denied by the government. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said there can be no justification of a practice wherein husband divorces his wife merely on the pretext that either the food is not cooked properly or that the lady wants to pursue her professional career. Importantly yet again for Muslims, in his first media interview, Prime Minster Narendra Modi did not rule out the possibility of an Ordinance to resolve the Ram Temple issue. Answering questions, he said the fact of the matter is deliberately things are being delayed for last 70 years. 'My appeal to Congress leaders and their lawyers is please do not make things prolong in this case". Asked if an ordinance will be brought on Ram Temple like on Triple Talaq, he said Ordinance on Triple Talaq was brought after Supreme Court order. "In this case also, once court verdict comes, the government will discharge its responsibilities," he added. "We have said in our BJP manifesto that a solution would be found to this(Ayodhya) issue under Constitution," Mr Modi said. This is for the first time such a clear assertion is coming from the Prime Minister even as the case is all set to come up for hearing in the Supreme Court sooner than later. Staring at the prospects of coming elections, while a section of Muslims and Christians voters would be hoping of a Congress revival - especially in the wake of just held assembly polls - others are still talking about the anti-Muslim mayhem of 2002. According to Hussain Mofidul Choudhary, a Muslim businessman in West Bengal's Siliguri, "The blemish of the 2002 riots remains and is still relevant for BJP and their machinations". Some 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in what many alleged 'state-sponsored' violence when Mr Modi was the Chief Minister. A charge - of course - denied by the BJP. Coming to Christians, there were definitely certain reports of 'violence' in 2018 against Christians in a few BJP-ruled states including Maharashtra and Jharkhand. In Uttar Pradesh, there were similar issues coming up quite often. On December 25-26, Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio and Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma - both Christians - have condemned the 'barbaric attack' on a Sunday Mass in Maharashtra's Kolhapur district. Mr Rio is a leader of regional outfit Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) in Nagaland and is an ally of the BJP while Mr Sangma is also heading a NPP-BJP alliance in another Christian state of Meghalaya. For its part, the BJP has been cautious of its pro-Hindutva 'image' and has been treading a fine line in promoting its 'pro-nationalist' agenda while trying to court voters in Christian strongholds in the northeast and in Kerala. Prime Minister Modi, his government and several organisations have been criticised for creating policies that push for a Hindu cultural and religious hegemony. Among those are national laws to ban beef and restrict conversions, moves those have angered religious minorities. But ever mindful of placating religious minorities, the party has adopted different strategies tailored to different areas, and embraced Christian politicians in key states. For example, the BJP decided to go soft on the beef ban in the northeast and the southern state of Kerala where Christian votes are key to winning seats. The mollifying strategy of the BJP was also visible in the Christian-majority Mizoram, which went to polls in November. BJP at present has 12 legislators in Nagaland, two in Meghalaya and has also entered Mizoram - where the joke used to be that the Mizoram rocks are too hard for Lotus (BJP symbol) to bloom. But minorities remain at crossroads in more ways than one. Within a month of Congress taking charge in Rajasthan, a case of mob violence over suspicion of cow smuggling has been reported, sending a negative signal about newly-installed the Congress government led by Ashok Gehlot. In Chhattisgarh, where BJP was routed in November 2018 polls, the Christian leaders have presented a charter of demands to major political parties, seeking an 'end to discrimination and violence'. The charter prepared by leaders of the ecumenical Chhattisgarh Christian Forum 'expressed concerns' over the security of the minuscule Christian community. The state with 25 million people, where Christians make up barely 2 per cent of the population, also saw alleged discrimination in denying government jobs and other benefits to Christians. "Christians were denied government jobs and other benefits for being Christian," Ankush Baryekar, the forum's general secretary, had alleged in November. In terms of minorities, however, Congress has found themselves at the receiving end owing to revival of 1984 anti-Sikh carnage in public discourse. One-time Congress MP and a senior leader Sajjan Kumar has been convicted and sent to jail. In the wake of related developments, there was a minor row in Delhi assembly over an attempted resolution to withdraw demand of Bharat Ratna conferred on former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. In many quarters, the Congress party came under attack for the mayhem in Delhi that took place aftermath assassination of Indira Gandhi. Even newly-installed Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath has come under attack. The circa 2018 saw Modi government coming under sustained pressure to deliver on Ram Temple by its oldest ally Shiv Sena, VHP and importantly even the RSS. "The people of Bharat have reposed complete confidence and gave BJP the full mandate. The people of Bharat expect this government to fulfill the same promise during this tenure," senior RSS leader Dattatreya Hosabale tweeted on January 1, first day of the year.  

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