02/13/2022, 08.00
ECCLESIA IN ASIA
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Catholics and politics in India, appeal in Goa

by Nirmala Carvalho

On the eve of local elections in the small state where Christians are a quarter of the population, the Council for Social Justice and Peace warns that, “Money and freebees are distributed and unfortunately many people accept them. These offer no solution for unemployment, for escalating prices and homelessness.” Above all, “Let us not be manipulated by political experiments, electoral adventurism and deceptive propaganda.”

Goa (AsiaNews) – Next week elections will start in five Indian states – Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa – to elect local assemblies.

The poll comes at a critical moment for the political stability of country, especially the vote in Uttar Pradesh, which has a population of 200 million, and is by far the most populous state.

How will local Churches respond to the vote at a time when intimidation and violence against Christians have reached worrying levels?

Goa is an interesting case. A small state with just 1.5 million people, it is extremely important for Indian Christianity, not only for its history – like its famous churches designated by UNESCO as World Heritage sites – but also for the size of its community.

Christians number around 366,000 or 25 per cent of the population, second only to Hindus (about 65 per cent), Muslims (8.3 per cent) and smaller groups of Sikh, Jain and Buddhist minorities (1 per cent).

Goa goes to the poll in a single round next Monday (14 February), but results will be released only on 10 March, when voting and counting will be concluded in the other four states.

In recent weeks, the local Church has urged Catholics to grasp what is at stake, inviting them to prayer, highlighted by an extended Eucharistic adoration the whole day yesterday (11 February), in many parishes and religious communities.

Even before this moment of prayer, however, in recent weeks the Diocesan Council for Social Justice and Peace issued a very frank statement inviting Catholics to “reflect, pray and vote”.

“Elections are a two-way responsibility, both of the electorate as well as of the candidates. We should elect the right people, rather than electing the wrong people and blaming them. In our first few assemblies, we elected respectable persons who enjoyed high credibility. Nowadays, we want to elect people who are at our back and call, to serve our purposes, even if they are illegal.”

One of evils of Indian politics listed by the secretary, Fr Savio Fernandes, is politicians crossing the floor to join other parties.

“Goa has gained notoriety in the past as well as today for record number of defections and desertions driven by selfish considerations. Though some defections were much publicized; the fact is that, there have been defections and desertions all across the political spectrum.

“Let us be honest: we too have to share the blame for the same, as we have failed to confront those concerned, giving the impression that their actions are justified. In fact, we ourselves have tried to justify such acts on the pretext of development and even glorifying concerned persons as being the ones who help us in our needs.”

With respect to Indian politics more broadly, the statement notes: “We are confronted with intolerance, misuse of law enforcing agencies to suppress opponents, complete control of the mainstream media, presumed monopoly on truth, draconian laws, federalism is under challenge, legislations being bulldozed, and the farmers’ struggle for justice. Every issue is sought to be projected in polarized terms.

“There have been attacks on weaker sections, and on minorities under the pretext of forcible conversions. Prayer services of various faiths, including Christmas celebrations were disrupted and educational institutions attacked. There have been shocking calls for genocide.”

Against this background, the Council for Social Justice and Peace says that, “we need to look not only at the candidate but also at her/his party. Large corporates often colonise (remote-control) through political entities.”

Sadly, “Money and freebees are distributed and unfortunately many people accept them. These offer no solution for unemployment, for escalating prices and homelessness. Many candidates are propped up to divide votes on sectarian considerations.”

For Fr Fernandes, “There is frequent misuse of religion for political purposes through much publicized blessing ceremonials and offers of free pilgrimages. Appealing to people to take money but to vote for oneself is blatantly improper and illegal. Floating of fancy financial schemes which cannot be honoured is highly deplorable, more so, when the State itself is in debt.”

“[P]arties with national ambitions are here to increase their vote percentages, so as to gain national recognition, even by recklessly splitting secular votes. We should be mindful of the possibility of communal and fascist forces camouflaging behind the labels of political alternatives.

Last but not least, “Let us not be manipulated by political experiments, electoral adventurism and deceptive propaganda. We have joined the mainstream of national life long back. We need to remain in the national mainstream in a dispensation which is stable and secular.”

Consequently, “We should certainly vote; however, after prayerful discernment.”

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