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BJP-led government to be detrimental to religious minorities

Several eminent officials and experts from both India and the US have told lawmakers that a BJP-led government at the center would be detrimental.

WASHINGTON: Several eminent officials and experts from both India and the US have told lawmakers that a BJP-led government at the center would be detrimental to the basic rights of the religious minorities in India.

Testifying before the influential Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the US Congress (TLHRC) on 'The Plight of Religious Minorities in India', the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Vice Chair Katrina Lantos yesterday said the USCIRF has been closely monitoring the situation in India.

"Many religious minority communities have reported to USCIRF that they fear that a BJP win, and the election of Narendra Modi as the country's Prime Minister, will be detrimental to them and religious freedom. The BJP last led the national government between 1998 and 2004," Lantos said.

"Between 2002 and 2004 USCIRF had recommended that the State Department designate India a 'Country of Particular Concern' (CPC) for the government's systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom," she said.

She said the USCIRF long has been concerned about the BJP's and Modi's close association with Hindu nationalist organizations.

"The activities of these groups, especially those with an extremist agenda or history of using violence against minorities, often negatively impact the status of religious freedom in the country," she said.

Many of these groups exist under the banner of the Sangh Parivar, some 30 organisations including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

"Sangh Parivar entities aggressively press for governmental policies that would promote a Hindu nationalist agenda, and adhere in varying degrees to an ideology of Hindutva, which holds non-Hindus as foreign to India," Lantos said.

Meanwhile, Congressman Tulsi Gabbard, the first ever Hindu lawmaker in the US Congress, questioned the timing of the Congressional hearing and alleged that its goal is to influence the Indian elections.

"I do not believe the timing of this hearing is a coincidence. The national elections in India begin on Monday and continue until May 12. I am concerned that the goal of this hearing is to influence the outcome of India's national elections, which is not an appropriate role for the US Congress," Gabbard said.

Testifying before the committee, John Dayal, member of India's National Integration Council, expressed his serious concern over the future of secularism and freedom of religion in the country.

"The root cause of our fear is the stranglehold that the infamous RSS has achieved on the political discourse, and the apparatus of the powerful BJP," explained Dayal, who is also secretary general of the All India Christian Council.

A BJP-led government, he feared, would use state machinery and law enforcement apparatus to harass, intimidate and disenfranchise religious minorities.

Hundreds of youth from minority communities are still in jail accused of acts of terror that are now proven to be the handiwork of Hindutva terror groups, he said.

Robin Phillips, executive director at the Advocates for Human Rights, said there is a serious possibility of increased violence against religious minorities in India in connection with the upcoming elections.

"India cannot abrogate its obligation to protect the human rights of its citizens in the name of national security," he said in his testimony.

"We encourage the United States to take strong bilateral and multilateral action to ensure that the rights of religious minorities in India are adequately protected and that India complies with all of its international human rights obligations," Philips said.

"I've been to India and witnessed blood spattered walls as a result of communal violence, I've met with countless victims of riots, and I've yet to come to the conclusion that justice has been done," Congressman Pitts said.

John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director at the Human Rights Watch, said he believes that it is appropriate for the United States to continue to press for comprehensive accountability for the 2002 events in Gujarat, and press for accountability in other serious cases mentioned during the hearing.

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