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Saints in good shape to build on success – Darbon Marguerite Gail Cole – Worship Service 12.06.2024 11:00 a.m.

The first thing Syed Ashraf did when he woke up at 5:45 a.m. last Tuesday in his home in Ashburn, Virginia, was to look up the results of the Indian election.

His tension had eased and he felt a glimmer of hope as he looked through the results coming in from the subcontinent, he said. After 47 days of voting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) secured most seats in parliament but failed to achieve the majority needed to form a government – an unexpected rebellion against the Hindu nationalist party that has dominated the country’s politics for a decade and fueled tensions between religious groups.

“People have really raised their voices, and that is a good thing,” Ashraf, a Muslim Indian who grew up in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh and moved to Virginia in 2000, told the Washington Post. “I was worried about the future of my community there and other communities as well. I was to lose my faith in India’s democracy.”

Modi was sworn in for a rare third term on Sunday, but the new composition of Parliament could impose more checks on him. Power. “And that’s what makes me feel good,” said Ashraf, 51.

Indian Americans in the Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia regions watched India’s elections last week, checking WhatsApp group chats and waiting for the latest news. The stakes are high: growing wealth inequality, India’s position in the global economy, and threatened multiculturalism and secularism as the BJP seeks to marginalize the country’s minorities.

As the setback for Modi and the BJP became clear, Indian Americans in the DMV had mixed reactions: shock, joy, hope, concern, resignation. Some see the shift in Indian politics as a positive step to promote the country’s diversity. Others say it could threaten India’s economic growth – or wouldn’t change much at all.

Raj Prasannappa, 60, is among those who fear the results will slow India’s economic growth.

Prasannappa, a BJP supporter, followed the election on Indian news channel NDTV and had expected the party to win more seats.

He noted how Indian stock prices collapsed after the election results were announced. (The country’s stocks have since recovered.)

“India was on the right track economically,” Prasannappa said outside a Hindu temple in Sterling, Virginia, as the sun set and a Hanuman prayer rang out. Now, he said, a parliament without a clear majority “leaves India in uncertainty.” (Under the BJP, India’s share of global GDP has grown, although unemployment and rural wages remain high and low.)

Kumar Tirumala, another member of Prassannappa’s temple, brought bananas as an offering for the pooja. He stayed up late on Monday night to see the results, which he expected would be another landslide victory for the BJP. For him, Modi and the BJP represent a preservation of Hindu culture. Almost 80 percent of the country’s population is Hindu.

On Tuesday evening, he said he was happy with the outcome: Modi had secured a third term and that was enough. Tirumala hopes that the BJP will recover in the coming years.

Many members of the country’s minorities, such as Ashraf, disagree. The party has built a temple on the site of a destroyed mosque, revoked the special autonomous status of the predominantly Muslim region of Kashmir and excluded Muslims from a fast-track citizenship process. Encouraged by the party’s leadership, lynch mobs have targeted the country’s Muslims and local officials have used bulldozers to destroy the properties of Muslims accused of crimes. During the election campaign, Modi referred to the country’s Muslims as “infiltrators.”

Tensions are also palpable on Western soil. As the Washington Post reported, Indian officials staged an assassination attempt in the United States this year on a Sikh separatist leader who was a vocal critic of Modi. And Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country was investigating allegations that the Indian government was behind the killing of a Sikh separatist leader from Canada.

“Modi has done nothing for us,” said Balwinder Singh from the quiet foyer of a Gurdwara, a Sikh place of worship in northwest Washington. “The way he has treated the Muslims is not good. The Sikh community is not happy either.”

For 54-year-old Singh, the election results represent a setback for Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda. “It is a good sign for India,” he said.

Laby George, who leads an Indian church in Silver Spring, said breaking the BJP’s political monopoly was critical to the health of the country’s democracy. He stayed up until about 3 a.m. to watch the election and went to sleep relieved.

“India is a democratic country. For a democracy to thrive, it needs a good opposition party,” he said. “That will help the country move in the right direction. I am not saying that everything can be fixed, but there can be resistance.”

Last year, mobs incited by Hindu nationalism attacked hundreds of Christian converts in dozens of villages in eastern India. Hopefully there will now be less aggression against minorities, said Selvin Selvaraj, 49, of Gaithersburg.

Selvaraj said he waited until 4:15 a.m. in the hope that the opposition would win more seats.

Rupinder Singh, a Rockville resident, said the restructuring of Parliament was not enough. He said many Sikhs did not have much faith in political parties – the parties were “two sides of the same coin.”

This month is a stark reminder of that for many Sikhs. June marks the 40th anniversary of the Indian army raiding the holy site of Sikhism, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, to kill a militant Sikh leader. Hundreds died in the attack. The bloody raid took place under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of the Indian National Congress party.

Regardless of who is prime minister or sits in parliament, India is grappling with problems that are becoming more pressing by the day, such as the worsening climate crisis, said Rupinder Singh, 40. Last week, 14 people died in a heatwave in India, including 10 election workers.

“What will happen when it’s 60 degrees and there’s no water?” he asked. “There will be a battle between the haves and the have-nots, and that’s scary. No political party is serious about this issue.”

Many Indian Americans across the DMV said they would continue to closely monitor the political situation in their homeland – some with hope, some with doubt.

“This is neither positive nor negative. I am still skeptical about what is going on and what will come next,” said 40-year-old Imran Kukdawala. “The BJP did not get the majority it had hoped for. But it is still in power.”

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