Christians in India rejoice at election results

Christians in India rejoice at election results

Babette Francis

After the Indian elections held during April/May 2009, involving an electorate of over 714 million, Secretary General of the All India Christian Council, Dr John Dayal, issued a press statement expressing the joy - and relief - of Christians on the re-election of Congress and its United Progressive Alliance, with an increased majority to the Lok Sabha, House of the People, over the (Hindu-nationalist) Bharatiya Janata Party:

"The All India Christian Council salutes the people of India for the decisive manner in which they have rejected divisive, communal and sectarian political forces in the elections. Their vote for secularism, stability and development imposes on the party they have trusted with their mandate, the Indian National Congress, and the architects of its victory, party president Mrs Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and General Secretary Mr Rahul Gandhi, the responsibility of restoring national political discourse and governance to its pristine values inscribed in the Constitution ...

"We hope the national leaders of the party and the Government will correct the aberrations that crept in after 1991 leading to the demolition of the secular fabric of the country, untold misery to the people, unprecedented bloodshed and massacres of religious minorities ...

"For the Christian community, hope increases that the rapists, killers and arsonists of Orissa's Kandhamal and Karnataka will be brought to justice ... Dalit Christians look forward to a realisation of their 50-year-old search for equal rights, promised often but yet to be given.

"The All India Christian Council warmly congratulates the Congress and the new government ... [It] also congratulates those who have won for the BJP, the Left and the Third and Fourth Fronts. Each Member of Parliament has a God- given duty to work for the common man. We pray God will bless them abundantly. God bless India".

That the elections in the world's largest democracy were peaceful is no small achievement in a developing country which has sharp divisions in religion and inequalities in the economic status of citizens. The majority of Indians are Hindus, but the country has the world's second largest Muslim population, and is bedevilled by the legacy of the caste system in which Dalits (Untouchables), many of whom are Christians, are discriminated against. The re-election of a secular government is a blow to the BJP and groups which want Hinduism to be the national religion.

Ebenezer Samuel, President, Serve India Ministries, an evangelical support ministry for independent missionary pastors, said he was pleased by the results. "We are grateful to God for answering our prayers ... Despite the persecution against Christians, Serve India has seen exceptional growth. We had 300 pastors in December, now we have 430 pastors ... Whenever there is persecution, the church always grows ...".

There are four Christians in Manmohan's Government. Agatha Sangma, 28, Minister for Rural Development, is a Catholic. Other Christians in the ministry are A.K. Anthony (Defence) and K.V. Thomas, and Vincent Pala, Ministers of the State. There are five Dalit Ministers with Cabinet rank.

Indian Bishops Conference

The Indian Bishops Conference Secretary General, Msgr Stanislaus Fernandes, appreciates the new executive: "The government must be all inclusive and take into consideration all aspects of the diversity and plurality of our beloved motherland India ... [W]e hope the new government works to end a culture that tolerates corruption and inefficiency, discrimination and communalism. The bishops pray that with this new government, the long pending equal rights of our Dalit Christians will be resolved".

Political analysts have suggested that last year's anti-Christian pogroms in the state of Orissa contributed to the electoral loss of the BJP. The Times of India commented: "The old ploy of provoking communal riots in order to polarize the electorate, a formula the BJP appears to have stuck to as late as 2008 in the case of anti-Christian riots in Orissa, is subject to diminishing returns at the ballot box ... This is a new century, where destroying a mosque in order to build a temple in its place hardly fits in the program of any political party ...".

General Secretary of BJP, Arun Jaitley, admitted: "Even in comparison to our performance in the 2004 elections [when the BJP lost] the number of seats have further decreased from 138 to 116. As compared to the last Lok Sabha elections, there has been a dip of about 4% to 5% in the national vote".

The analysis within the BJP has shown they are losing popularity among the youth as well as the urban middle class, two segments where it had been strong earlier and which represent the emerging India of the 21st century.

In Orissa, "the situation is still very tense, and the withdrawal of federal forces will cause panic among people," warns Father Ajay Singh, director of the social-service society in the Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Archdiocese. The federal government sent forces there in August 2008 after Hindu extremists launched a wave of violence which claimed 90 lives and rendered 50,000 people homeless. Most victims were Christians.

International Christian Concern, which ranks India among the top ten persecutors in its Hall of Shame, says, "The central government of India had failed to respond adequately to this enormous crisis because most of those affected by the violence are outcastes."

Some priests say the Orissa police can handle the situation now the state has a secular government. The election of Meira Kumar, the first woman and the first Dalit to become Speaker of the Indian Parliament, is great cause for celebration, according to Gospel for Asia President, K.P. Yohannan. The dispossessed now have a voice who can speak for them.

Babette Francis was born in India and is the National and Overseas Co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc.

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