The Archbishop of Delhi, Anil Couto is facing backlash for a 8 May letter to catholics calling for a prayer campaign for the “turbulent political atmosphere threatening democracy and secularism”.
In his letter, he declared: “We are witnessing a turbulent political atmosphere which poses a threat to the democratic principles enshrined in our constitution and the secular fabric of our nation.”
He added: “It is our hallowed practice to pray for our country and its political leaders all the time, but all the more so when we approach the general elections. As we look forward towards 2019 when we will have a new government, let us begin a prayer campaign for our country from May 13.”
Couto included a prayer to be read in all churches in Delhi during the weekly mass. The prayer read: “May the ethos of true democracy envelop our elections with dignity and the flames of honest patriotism enkindle our political leaders. This is our cry, Heavenly Father, in these troubled times as we see the clouds eclipsing the light of truth, justice, and freedom.”
The seemingly innocuous letter has brought the ire of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which accuses the bishop of stoking communal interests. The Archbishop’s office replied that the letter did not mention any particular party and was not addressed to Prime Minister Modi.
The response from the BJP has come from Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi who said: “The Prime Minister is working towards inclusive growth without discriminating while breaking barriers of religion and caste. We can only ask them to think with progressive mindset.”
This letter follows an open letter written last month by the Moderator of the Church of South India, the second largest Church in India, the Bishop Most Rev. Thomas Oomen which demanded “that the Government at the centre ensures the democratic and secular fabric of India to be safeguarded instead of promoting their Hindutva agenda”.
Despite the stronger wording, this letter did not receive any public attention from the ruling party. And here context is everything.
A month makes a big difference in Indian politics. After a long drawn out electoral battle in the southern state of Karnataka (which was seen as a key electoral battle leading up to the 2019 general elections), the BJP was unable to form the government which has changed the narrative that they are in for a fight.
There is also increasing pressure of multiple regional parties potentially forming a coalition, along with a resurgent and increasingly assertive Indian National Congress party led by Rahul Gandhi. Additionally, in price-sensitive India, petrol prices reached an all-time high which is bound to impact aspects of trade, commercial activities and daily life.
Despite these efforts, the BJP is still expected to win the 2019 general elections, primarily due to the significant popularity of Prime Minister Modi
While this letter once again reflects a sense of insecurity faced by Indian Christians, looking at why this issue is brought to prominence in the media again is vital.
Image Credit: CC by Church in India/ Wikimedia Commons