09/01/2005, 00.00
INDIA

After 13 years, the National Integration Council is back in business in India

by Nirmala Carvalho
With PM Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi in attendance, the Archbishop of New Delhi forcefully pleads the case of Christian Dalits, emphasising the values of the Gospels and warning against extremism in Gujarat.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – India's true national integration is threatened by violence in some states of the Indian Union, the intolerance and extremism of some political groupings and the lack of interest shown by the central government, this according to Mgr Vincent Conçessao, Archbishop of New Delhi, who spoke at the inaugural meeting of the reconstituted National Integration Council (NIC).

Established by Pandit Nehru as a multiparty agency that would serve as forum for meetings and discussions that could help in building a truly democratic political system, the NIC had not met since 1992.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi, leaders of all the national and regional parties, 12 Chief Ministers and 12 Union ministers were present at the ceremony.

In yesterday's first session, a statement signed by Archbishop Vincent Conçessao, Christian minority rights leader John Dayal, leader and Reverend Valson Thampu was presented on behalf of India's Christian minority demanding equal rights for Christian Dalits or outcastes and an end to ethnic and religious violence.

In the statement that Archbishop Conçessao read, emphasis was placed on the Council's role as guarantor against the violence that prevails in some states of the Union.

"Local violence is one of the greatest threats to national integration," the Archbishop said. "The authorities cannot abdicate their responsibilities and leave the population at the mercy of violence. This discredits the law in the eyes of the people."

In an interview with AsiaNews, Mgr Conçessao said: "I am very satisfied with the proceedings of the NIC. Our demand of justice for Christian Dalits was very well received by most political parties. The NIC members heard the grievances of Christian Dalits who feel alienated by a distant political system and a development process that excludes them." All now understand the plight of Christian outcastes.

"If the Union government really wants to pursue its policy of 'justice for all' it must solve the Dalit issue," the prelate said.

"Everyone agreed, except for members of rightwing (extremist Hindu) parties beclouded by centuries of discrimination," he added.

Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat, was also present. Nicknamed 'Hitler' for his role in the ethnic and religious violence that have marred life in his state, Modi delivered a speech in which he praised Gujarat as a "model state" and a "state of communal harmony", inviting the Council to hold its next meeting there.

However, after riots causing the death of some 2,000 Muslims and the countless cases of violence and discrimination inflicted on the Christian minority, his words sounded hollow.

"Not only was I uncomfortable with his speech, but so was everyone present," Archbishop Conçessao said. "There was a general feeling that he was bluffing and pulling a con job. Modi was aware of the hostile reception to his speech and disappeared immediately after speaking, giving no one a chance to confront him."

The prelate said that he offered the Council "a Christian outlook on national integration, based on the values of truth, justice and love expressed in the Gospels as well as on the duties that fall on the citizens of a truly democratic state as dreamt by social reformers and the founding fathers of the nation."

Addressing the gathering, he stressed that the "Christian community is your partner in any and every efforts at reconciliation and healing, justice, and lasting peace."

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