Updated: March 16, 2021 10:13 AM GMT
A Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporter dressed as Hindu god Hanuman gestures during a mass rally addressed by India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Brigade Parade ground in Kolkata on March 7 ahead of the West Bengal state legislative assembly elections. (Photo: Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP)
An ecumenical Christian group has urged people in India’s Assam state to vote for secularism in an indirect call to reject the ruling pro-Hindu party in the upcoming state polls.
Assam Christian Forum, an umbrella organization of all Christian denominations in the northeastern state, did not name any political party in its statement but said secular governments must ensure “freedom of religion.”
The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which runs both the state and federal governments, is criticized for promoting a policy of Hindu nationalism that aims to make India a Hindu-only nation.
The BJP is seeking a second term in Assam by defeating its rival Mahajot, an alliance of eight political parties led by Congress.
The three-phase election to elect 126 members of the state's legislative house is scheduled to start on March 27.
The forum under the leadership of Catholic Archbishop John Moolachira of Guwahati said it "stands for the sanctity of the Indian constitution both in letter and spirit."
The governments must uphold and implement “the sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic character" of the constitution, the Christians' statement said.
“This implies that freedom of religion should be facilitated and ensured; worship and worship places, religious practices and services of the minority groups” are respected and protected as enshrined in the constitution, it said.
People from minority communities such as Muslims and Christians should be given representation at all levels of governance and administration, it said.
The statement also asked to end victimization of religious minorities, referring to the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act, which is accused of discriminating against Muslims.
New laws should not endanger the land, livelihoods and income of tribal people and should not suppress the rights of farmers, fisher-people, industrial workers and migrants, it said.
The Christian forum said the government should ensure that “people of different faiths, ideologies, cultures and races” live “with dignity and freedom in the state.”
Allen Brooks the spokesperson of the forum, told UCA News on March 14 that church groups’ pre-election statements traditionally stressed the need for free and fair elections and the importance of voting.
“Now we are asking to vote for an inclusive and secular government because religious minorities are feeling intimidated across the country,” Brooks said.
Christian and Muslim leaders in BJP-ruled states complain of governments tacitly supporting violence against their people orchestrated by Hindu groups supporting Hindu nationalism.
“For the next five years, the government we choose will govern us. Therefore, everyone who has a vote should take this opportunity seriously to elect a government that respects freedom of religion and values of secularism,” Brooks said.
Retired Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati told UCA News on March 15 that the statement was issued to help “our people understand the value and importance of their vote.”
“Everyone should cast their vote as this is the only way that they can elect their government,” said the Salesian archbishop. “We are not taking the side of any political party … it is purely the choice of the people.”
Christians, who number some 1.1 million of Assam’s population of 33 million, are traditionally seen as Congress supporters.
Christian votes are reportedly decisive in some 40 constituencies dominated by ethnic people such as the Bodo, Karbi and Garo and some tribal people in the state’s tea estates. Some 61.47 percent of the state’s people are Hindus, while Muslims account for 34.22 percent.