Indian bishops insist politically charged letter is fake

Letter spread on social media is part of a ploy ahead of Karnataka election, says church official
Indian bishops insist politically charged letter is fake

Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore welcomes Congress party president Rahul Gandhi when the political leader was campaigning in the southern Indian state of Karnataka ahead of May 12 polls.  (Photo by IANS)

A fake letter doing the rounds on social media has led to India's top church leaders being accused of working to divide the Hindu community in Karnataka just days ahead of a crucial election in the southern Indian state.

The two-page letter — which first appeared on social media May 9 — claimed that church officials supported demands made by the Lingayat community to be named a separate minority religion.

"We can assure you that this is a fake and mala fide letter," conference secretary-general Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas said in an official communique.

Church officials, he said, are contemplating legal action against those involved in making and promoting the fake letter.

The Lingayats — an offshoot of Hinduism — make up an estimated 17 percent of the 66 million people of Karnataka state. They are decisively dominant in nearly 100 of the 224 constituencies, mostly in the state's north, local reports said.

The Lingayat community are traditionally Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters during Indian elections.

The fake letter was shown to be written by Cardinal Oswald Gracias, head of the national bishops' conference. It was addressed to Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore.

The letter wrongly designated Cardinal Gracias as the general secretary of national conference when he is its president.

"It is evident that those mischief mongers were not even aware of officials of the church in India," Bishop Mascarenhas said.

No church official would ever "indulge in divisive tactics as indicated in that letter," he said.

"The language mistakes in that letter are a clear indication that it could not have originated from our office," said the bishop.

The May 12 Karnataka election has been dubbed as a forerunner of the April 2019 national elections and its results will gauge how popular the pro-Hindu BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are among voters.

For the rival Congress party, which currently runs the state, a victory is essential to revitalize its chances for the national elections.

On March 19, the state cabinet approved a long-standing demand from the Lingaya community that they be listed as a minority religious group in the state, a decision largely seen as a bid to woo the community to the Congress party.

The state's BJP president and chief minister candidate B.S. Yeddyurappa is a Lingayat. The decision also reduces Yeddyurappa to becoming the leader of a minority community.

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The "fake letter" dated March 23 attempted to connect church leaders with the Congress decision to grant the Lingayats the listing as a minority religious group.

"Our prayers have been heard," stated the letter which purportedly also said that church officials, including a Vatican representative, met with state officials pressing for the state cabinet to make a decision on the listing.

"Let's work hard for the rich harvest of souls in Karnataka," stated the fake letter that lists several steps to evangelize the Lingayat community. The letter wanted the Catholic Church to build an "emotional bridge" with Lingayat religious leaders and convert at least five percent of the Lingaya people by 2043.

The Lingayat community claims to differ to Hinduism as they worship only Shiva and they oppose polytheism, Vedic teachings and other popular Hindu traditions and customs, particularly associated with the caste system.

Christians, who form 1.8 percent or 1.1 million in the state's population, are traditionally seen as Congress party supporters.

Congress party President Rahul Gandhi paid a courtesy visit to Archbishop Moras on May 8.

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