India’s Prime Minister, His Fascist Ideology, and the Fate of India’s Christians

By Rob Schwarzwalder Published on May 28, 2019

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been reelected. By a huge margin. That’s “an absolute tragedy.” That’s what Dean Curry, head of the anti-persecution ministry Open Doors, calls it. Modi is a Hindu nationalist deeply hostile to Christianity and to Christians.

Since he came to power in 2014, India has become the tenth worst country in the world for following Jesus. It was 28th on Open Doors’ World Watch List back then. What countries are worse? Iran’s ninth. India’s only slightly better than the Iranian theocracy. Pakistan’s fifth. Afghanistan’s second and North Korea’s first.

The Fascist Ideology of Hindutva

“It is not Hindus who persecute Christians,” explains Vijayesh Lal, who heads the Evangelical Fellowship of India. “It’s a particular group of people who subscribe to an ideology called Hindutva.” The word means “Hindu Essence.”

That is not Hinduism, he says, speaking to Christianity Today. “Hindutva is a political ideology. It’s a fascist ideology. It believes in one nation, one culture, one people. And it borrows directly from Hitler and elevates Hitler as one of their heroes. They believe in the final solution. These were the forces that killed Mahatma Gandhi and they don’t hesitate to kill.”

Lal explains: They’re just taking the name Hindu and building a political narrative around it. So they’re using religion for political gains. … They have a vision or an aspiration that they that they want to fulfill and it’s called the Hindu Rashtra or the Hindu Nation. Now what that means is that India will be explicitly a Hindu nation, and there will be no room for any other.”

This, he says, “is the ideology that has been politically empowered by the ascension of Mr. Modi. Mr. Modi himself being an ardent follower of this ideology. In fact, he was even a pracharakpracharak means an evangelist of this ideology — for many, many years.”

Even more revealing is what countries are now better for Christians than India. Syria, for example. (It’s 11th.) Iraq. Saudi Arabia. (It’s 15th.) Egypt. Viet Nam. China.

Modi’s government so dislikes Christianity that it will hurt its own people to keep Christians away. It has been getting rid of Christian ministries that have for many years served India’s many needy people. In 2017, Compassion International was forced to close “589 Indian-staffed development centers caring for more than 145,000 children.” Why? Because “India’s Ministry of Home Affairs put it on a list of organizations needing prior approval before transferring funds into the country” — but wouldn’t approve the grant.

And now, tens of thousands of children have suffered. The Indian government would rather drive out Christians than make sure the needy are helped. Think about that.

Bad News for Everyone

But Modi is not just bad news for Christians. He seems to want to rid India of anyone not in line with his radical Hinduism. “Christians in India are not the only ones facing the brunt” of Modi’s extremism, says the general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, Vijayesh Lal. Modi and his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are antagonistic toward everyone from Muslims to Communists. They also target the Dalits, the so-called “untouchables.”

Christians seem to be particular targets, though. India’s Christians won’t be treated as equal citizens because the BJP wants to create a purely Hindu India, Lal says.

Now, there is even genuine concern that Christianity might be attacked in the Indian Constitution. Indian Catholic Bishop Nazarene Soosai worries that the BJP may “want to change the law to make India a Hindu theocratic state.”

“Modi has edged India closer to the BJP’s long-standing vision of a Hindu nation,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “In the last five years, religious minorities, especially Muslims, have faced mob attacks from Hindu vigilante groups emboldened and in some cases directly supported by BJP politicians.”

What to do?

Yes, it’s a part of the world where America’s national security and vital interests are at risk. We need friends there. India has been a friend for decades. President Trump even called Modi, congratulating him on his reelection.

This is part-and-parcel of diplomacy. But just as important as keeping friends in places like India is protecting the freedoms of their people. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback need to make clear that the U.S. doesn’t accept religious persecution.

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This is not only a matter of principle. It’s a matter of our interests. Religious freedom encourages “political stability, economic development and women’s empowerment,” explains Brian Grim of the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation. His careful study of the data shows that the liberty to practice one’s faith in safety is “instrumental in achieving sustainable, inclusive and equitable economic growth, and creating greater opportunities for all.”

Countries that allow religious liberty are better off in many ways. That makes them better, safer, more reliable allies.

This is true not just for India, but China, Pakistan, and all the countries that persecute people who won’t give up their religion. America must stand with those suffering simply for wanting to live-out their most deeply held convictions. For America’s sake, and for theirs.

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