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Church leaders forecast political change

Communists expected to be thrown out in series of elections in eastern state

Church leaders forecast political change
Slogans daubed ahead of the elction in West Bengal
Julian Das, Kolkata

April 15, 2011

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Church leaders are expecting a change of government in the eastern state of West Bengal, where communists have ruled for more than three decades. Some 56 million people are eligible to vote in a six-phased election starting April 18 to elect 294 members of the state legislative assembly. The last phase is on May 10 and the results are expected three days later. “We want leaders who would take us forward, deliver the goods and are people-oriented,” commented Father Santanam Irudaya Raj, a member of the priests’ council of Calcutta archdiocese. The archdiocese retains the old name of Kolkata, capital of the state where a coalition headed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) now rules. “The Marxist government has been in power for too long and it is time that it gave way to a different party,” Father Raj remarked. According to him, there are “enough signs” to indicate the change is close at hand. Archbishop Lucas Sirkar of Calcutta says the state requires leaders who would work according to the constitution and sacrifice self-interest for the sake of the people. He said he hopes the new government will focus on education, job opportunities, improving health care facilities without discrimination. Holy Cross provincial Sister Gracy Sundar says she does not see much hope in the two major fronts in the fray. The Trinamool (grassroots) Congress led by the federal railways minister is opposing the ruling coalition. But she welcomes competition between the two parties. “It is necessary to take the state forward,” she said. Eugene Gonsalves, president of the Catholic Association of Bengal, wonders if the new government of “inexpedient people” could face the challenges. “By the time they have learned their works, it would be time for them to be out,” he added. Gonsalves said Christians, who form only 1.5 percent of the population, expect the new government to uphold the minority rights guaranteed in the Indian constitution. “The Christian community in the state is neglected in all spheres,” he added. The prospect of change does not find favour with Father Reginald Fernandes, who directs Seva Kendra, the archdiocese’s social service center. “The change is not going to solve all the problems in the state. It might usher in only cosmetic changes,” he said. What worries the priest is the unrest in Midnapore West district, the hotbed of Maoists. According to him, only peace initiatives by civilians can solve the problem and the Church would join such moves. The district goes to the polls on May 7. Meanwhile Archbishop Sirkar has asked parishes and Church-run institutions to pray "to strengthen the mission life in Midnapore region." Father Shyam Charan Mandi, a parish priest in the district, says people want relief from the suffocation they have experienced under the current political leaders. IB13909.1648

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