National Catholic Register

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Indian Church Cautious on Prospects Of Hindu-Party Coalition Government

BY Jim Cosgrove

March 15-21, 1998 Issue | Posted 3/15/98 at 1:00 PM

 

NEW DELHI—The Hindu nationalist BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party-Indian People's Party) and its allies emerged as the largest block in India's recent election, winning 250 seats in the country's 545-member parliament. Now with the BJP likely to head the next government, the Indian Church is not very “enthused.”

“There is nothing much for the Church to rejoice [about],” Bishop Charles Soreng, Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) told the Register March 6. Divided secular groups, said Bishop Soreng, the prelate of Hazaribag in eastern Bihar state, “have let down the poor people.” While BJP's supporters are mostly upper-caste Hindus, secular parties wooing the majority lower castes gave the seats to BJP on a platter in multi-cornered contests in several areas.

The “unhappiness” in the Church regarding the election results that have made the BJP coalition the front-runner in the 12th election to parliament was evident at an ecumenical meeting in New Delhi March 4. The participants of the meeting at the CBCI secretariat foresee the “least good for the Churches” from the party that is unabashedly anti-Christian.

BJP leaders are desperately looking for new supporters to cobble together a majority of 273 in the fractured parliament. The initial euphoria in the saffron camp (BJP) gave way to caution as two of its allies refused to join the BJP-led government and instead promised “support from outside” a euphemism for freedom to bargain and pull down the coalition at will. Lurking behind the BJP's political maneuvering is the Congress party that has secured 166 seats with its allies. If BJPfails to win over some of the parties in United Front (98 seats) with its “national agenda,” the Congress party is set to prop up another secular coalition.

John Dayal, national secretary of the All India Catholic Union (AICU), pointed out that the “fractured verdict” of the Indian electorate is not a “verdict for BJP and its Hindutva (Hindu nationalism). In reality, BJP is riding piggy-back on its allies.” BJP's strategic alliance with half a dozen regional groups on election eve helped it win over 80 seats.

BJP heading a “disparate coalition with partners diametrically opposed to its Hindutva is indeed pleasing for the minorities,” said Dayal, editor of Midday, the 100,000 circulation English daily. Political observers are unanimous that the saffron brigade will have to lie low to keep the coalition intact as most of its new allies bank on minority votes.

Yet, Dayal said even a fragile BJP coalition “does not augur well for Christians and other minorities.” Whenever BJP has had even short stints in power, Dayal added, it has meticulously “infiltrated the fabric of government” pointing out that recruitment to police and other key government departments have been from BJP cadres, “a legacy that cannot be undone.”

The impact of a BJP-led government would be most visible on the campaign for equal rights to Christian Dalits (low castes). The BJP-led government will “definitely take away our enthusiasm,” admitted Father S. Lourdusamy, leader of the National Coordination Committee for Dalit Christians. The BJP has waged a vigorous campaign against Christian demands after Churches intensified their campaign for an end to the religiously based discrimination against Christian Dalits. While Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist Dalits enjoy special benefits like free education and job reservation, these rights are denied to Christian Dalits who comprise 60% of 22 million Christians.

(Anto Akkara)

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