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Indian bishops know prayer is futile without action

They have asked Catholics to pray because as prelates they need to do something before a national election
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (second from right), who visited the Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi on Easter Sunday, April 9, 2023, poses for a photograph with Catholic bishops based in New Delhi and cathedral choir members.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (second from right), who visited the Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi on Easter Sunday, April 9, 2023, poses for a photograph with Catholic bishops based in New Delhi and cathedral choir members. (Photo: supplied)

Published: March 19, 2024 12:02 PM GMT
Updated: March 19, 2024 01:55 PM GMT

Ahead of national polls, the Indian Catholic hierarchy seems unable to make up its mind, or at least chose not to express it, lest they vitiate an already dangerous situation for the Christian community.

The world’s most populous democracy, home to 20 percent of humanity, is set to elect its 543 parliamentarians in a seven-phased poll. Starting on April 19, some 986.8 million voters will exercise their franchise across 28 states and eight federally ruled territories.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at 73, is seeking a third consecutive term on the plank of development and championing the interest of the country’s majority Hindus. His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) officially adopted Hindutva – Hindu cultural nationalism – as its ideology in 1989 and has been relentlessly following it ever since with unprecedented electoral success.

In the past 10 years, Modi’s party and Hindu groups that support it have already turned India into a de-facto Hindu nation ignoring the interests of nations Christians (2.3 percent) and Muslims (14 percent). While Christianity and Islam are treated as foreign religions, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism are dubbed offshoots of Hinduism.

Modi is sure of a BJP victory but working to win more than 400 seats, to improve their current tally of 303 seats in the parliament. Such a majority in the parliament could help the BJP claim the mandate to pass laws that suit their ideology or even to turn India into a presidential theocracy by amending the democratic secular constitution of India.

Many including Christian leaders fear a third term for BJP would result in the death of democracy in India. They accuse the BJP of already controlling vital democratic institutions such as the election commission, media, judiciary and even the banking system. But none other than opposition parties openly express this fear.

The Christian community is particularly guarded in its expressions. India’s Catholic bishops issued a statement after their February biennial general body meeting, evaluating the current socio-political situation and offering their “response” ahead of the national elections.

It said the country’s economic progress has benefited only a small percentage of people, and developments often happened at the cost of ecology. It also expressed apprehension about the increasing divisive attitudes, hate speeches, and fanatic movements threatening the country’s secular fabric.

The bishops also said attacks on Christians continue to increase and important democratic institutions are weakening, and the media failed to fulfill its role in a democracy. They also noted unprecedented religious polarization threatening the country.

Despite pinpointing the vital issues in the country, the bishops chose not to name any individual, party or government responsible for the situation. They also did not say what could people do to change the situation. Their only response was to hold a nationwide fast and prayer on March 22, the Friday before Good Friday.

The dedicated silence of the bishops, many Christian leaders covertly agree, stems from the collective and personal fear that openly opposing BJP and its policies could injure their interests.

Modi government has arrested several of its critics on trumpeted-up charges of treason, terrorist links or economic violations using federal investigation agencies.

One example is of an 84-year-old Jesuit activist Father Stan Swamy, who died as a prisoner in 2021. He died eight months after federal police under Modi arrested and accused him of links with banned rebels. Critics say Swamy was arrested because he stood with tribal people who opposed the anti-poor policies of the BJP state government in Jharkhand.

Indian bishops’ conference did not condemn Swamy’s arrest, nor did it demand an investigation into the situations that led to his death.

Eleven Indian states, most of them ruled by Modi’s party have enacted a sweeping anti-conversion law. Many Catholic priests and pastors were arrested, and criminal cases were registered, accusing them of trying to convert people.

Hindu groups have targeted Christian institutions like schools and colleges and prayer services and even criminal cases were slapped against bishops in states like Madhya Pradesh.

Sporadic violence continues in north-eastern Manipur state, where Modi’s BJP runs the government, ten months after it began on May 3, 2023. The ethnic strife between mostly Christians Kuki tribal people and the Hindu Meitei ethnic group has killed some 175 people, mostly Christians.

The Indian bishops’ conference is yet to make a public statement condemning the violence against Christians, or demanding the Modi government to act against the pro-Hindu groups who are accused of targeting Christians.

The silence of the bishops should not be blamed only on their eagerness to protect their resources and comforts. It could also result from a disagreement on supporting Modi and BJP.

Some bishops in southern India, particularly in Kerala, have openly declared support for the BJP as against bishops in northern India, where most anti-Christian violence takes place. The BJP is yet to make any inroads in Kerala and wants to be friendly with Christians.

Besides, the Christian north-south divide can also be seen in their approach to Muslims, the BJP’s prime target. The BJP and Christian leadership are together in Kerala in criticizing Muslim radicals. But in the rest of India, Christians are with Muslims in checking the Hindu radical actions. 

A prelate in southern Kerala even went to the extent of inventing the term “narco-jihad” (narcotics holy war), accusing Muslims of smuggling and selling narcotics to young non-Muslims (Christian and Hindu) to destroy their future. The BJP took over the allegation with its anti-Islam ideology.

The situation is different in the rest of the country where Christians and Muslims suffer violence at the hands of Hindu radicals. That makes it difficult for the bishops to take an open stand. 

There is also a subtle caste issue. Christians in Kerala take pride in their dubious claim to be descendants of upper-caste Hindus, whom St. Thomas, the apostle converted. With that claim, they become birds of the same feather to flock together with pro-Hindu groups, who want to impose the upper caste Hindu hegemony over India’s tribal and socially poor Dalit people.

Let us not forget that the majority of Christians in northern India, including bishops, come from tribal and Dalit backgrounds. The Kerala Christian claim and their bishops’ hobnobbing with BJP leaders must be embarrassing to Christians in the north.

Less surprisingly, the Indian Church is bereft of a united stand ahead of the vital polls. However, together they have exhorted Catholics to pray for peace and harmony in the country. They know faith and prayer without action is useless (James 2: 17-23), and yet they have asked to pray because, as bishops, they need to do something before a national election.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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2 Comments on this Story
GOPAL K
Most of your comments are highly biased. Stan swamy died in a Star hospital pune. The court had sentenced him. Hands and legs of Prof Joseph were chopped by muslim radicals. Last year a huge rally was taken out to Pala bishops house. Latest 28 or so muslims encroached intochurch property and an asstvicar was run over. Later compromised under pressure. Have you heard Pentecostal people hindu gods and godesses in north and received back lash. Why you keep mum on Muslims and blaming Innocent hindus
RONALD BETTAG
The "Oasis Plan" for development of the 'Middle East', a concrete focus and project for the entire region (Israel, Palestine and broader region of nations), was first published in 1974-75 by Lyndon LaRouche in his International Development Bank proposal, generating world wide discussion. Although it served as the potential foundation for 'Middle East' peace initiatives (the Oslo Accords, et.al.), it has been consistently undercut and sabotaged by operatives and geopolitical players of the British Empire, its Wall Street 'outpost', and Zionist policing agents (Henry Kissinger, et al.). Watch the 15 minute video, endorse the call and effort personally, and participate individually, or as a group, in the Schiller Institute "Oasis Plan" Conference Saturday, April 13th 11 am to 4 pm Eastern time. Registration, video, etc. can be found at : schillerinstitute.com (All are listed on the rotation of items in the top banner on the homepage) Ron Bettag
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