1992-07-24 00:00:00

George Gilbert Swell, a tribal Christian who lost the July 13 Indian presidential election, says he laments his defeat, blaming it on "casteism and political opportunism."

Swell, a Presbyterian backed by two prominent opposition parties, the pro-Hindu "Bahratiya Janata" Party (BJP, Indian peoples´ party) and "Janata Dal" (JD, people´s front), got 33.21 percent of the votes.

President-elect Shankar Dayal Sharma, an upper caste Brahmin backed by the ruling Congress Party, secured 64.78 percent. Sharma becomes the ninth president of independent India, succeeding President R. Venkataraman.

Venkataraman, also a Brahmin, was the Congress nominee in 1987 for president of India, a largely ceremonial position.

"The politics of opportunism and last-minute political realignments caused my defeat," Swell, from northeastern Meghalaya state, told UCA News July 21.

"Swell´s defeat is a direct setback to over 50 percent of India´s ´dalits´," former prime minister and JD leader Vishwanath Pratap Singh told UCA News July 21. Dalits are former low-caste untouchables.

All political parties including Congress had called for a president from dalit or tribal sections to honor the 1992 centenary of the birth of the late Babasaheb R. Ambedcar, who championed the dalits.

BJP leader Lal Kishanchand Advani told UCA News July 21 that Swell lost because of an "unholy alliance" between Communist parties and Congress.

The three prominent leftist parties in the opposition, the Communist Party of India (CPI), Communist Party of India (Marxist, CPM) and the Forward Block, withdrew their support for Swell after an understanding with Congress.

"The leftist parties ceased to be opposition parties during the election," Swell said. "I could have easily won if they had not turned opportunistic at a crucial time."

Congress spokesperson V.N. Gadgil told UCA News the leftists did "nothing wrong" since "we promised a dalit candidate for vice president." They are expected to field a dalit, K. R. Narayan, for vice president Aug. 19.

Gadgil claimed Congress always stood for India´s poor and that Sharma´s election in "no way poses a danger to the neglected lot in this country." He said Sharma was the "consensus candidate" so Congress "had to abide by that."

George Fernandes, a Catholic and JD leader, told UCA News his party kept its word by fielding a tribal for president. "Now the Congress should convince the people why it could not field a dalit candidate," he said.

Swell said Congress canards about him being a drunkard and beef-eater among the predominantly vegetarian parliamentarians also hampered his chance to win.

Some in Church circles welcomed Swell´s selection by a Hindu fundamentalist party, but others feared it was a "clever way to fool" Christians.

"The BJP by proposing Swell acted as guardians of minorities in the country, but they never wished him to win," Father George Pereira, acting deputy secretary general of the Catholic Bishops´ Conference of India, told UCA News.

Swell said his defeat was a "setback for minorities," calling Congress the most "communal and opportunistic" party, adding that "minorities would be safe only in the hands of the BJP."

Father Pereira disagreed. "He became a political scapegoat," he said. "I am only happy that the parliament elected a wise and scholarly man like Sharma."


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