Opinion | The Rising Church Interference in Indian Politics – News18

Written By: Rajesh Singh
Last Updated: March 16, 2024, 15:56 IST
New Delhi, India
In a written statement dated 14 March of this year, the Archbishop of Bengaluru, Most Rev. Peter Machado, made a fervent appeal. (Photo: Facebook)
In a written statement dated 14 March of this year, the Archbishop of Bengaluru, Most Rev. Peter Machado, made a fervent appeal. He called upon the Christian faithfuls to observe 22 March as a “day of prayer and fasting for peace and harmony in our country.” He then went on to underline, in that same appeal, issued on the letterhead of the Archdiocese of Bengaluru, the power of fasting and prayer, and added that it was the “most effective means in our hands who have committed ourselves to pursue truth, non-violence, healing, justice and reconciliation in courageously combating the force of falsehood…conflict and division.”
These appear to be inspiring words, indeed. So are the ones from another passage in the written outreach to the faithful: “So, dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ…let us place our petitions before God…especially as we go into the general elections to choose leaders who are secular, non-communal, non-corrupt, committed to the democratic traditions of our country…”
But the facade of the ‘inspiring’ appeals crumbles and the situation becomes suspicious when political allusions are made, which leads one to question: What business is it of the Church to exhort its faithfuls on matters of politics?
It can be argued that the written circular is general in nature and not for, or against, any particular party. But that argument stands shattered when one peruses the phrases in the second paragraph of the Archbishop’s statement. It is here that the real purpose is made evident, and it’s here that Rev. Machado exposes the true intent behind his appeal.
Sample the following: “The increasing impoverishment of the masses, the growing monopoly of the crony capitalists, the growing gap between the rich and the poor, the worsening unemployment among the educated youth…the unhindered multiplication of hate speeches, the systematic attempts at depriving millions of our fellow Indians of their citizenship rights…the unscrupulous dilution of minority rights, the frequent bulldozing of homes, shops and the places of worship of the minorities on flimsy accusations…” The rant continues.
While the language and context of the accusations can hardly disguise the target of the Archbishop’s ire, the more shocking part is the sweep of allegations that come with no evidence to back the claims. When Rev. Machado talks, for example of “increasing impoverishment,” he fails to remember that close to 25 crore people in the last nine years have been brought out of poverty. His claim about “crony capitalism” is an echo of the allegations that Opposition parties have been levelling against the current government, without any proof. The Archbishop refers to “unhindered multiplication of hate speech,” but forgets that hate-speech givers have been pulled up by our courts.
As for attempts to take away the citizenship of Indians, surely Rev. Machado is referring to the Citizenship Amendment Act. But sadly, he displays a complete lack of understanding of this law, which does not seek to deprive any Indian of his or her citizenship—any Indian, whether it be Hindu, Muslim, Christian, or of any other religious denomination. Why, then, is he fear-mongering by resorting to brazen falsehood?
In the matter of unemployment, the Archbishop should know that, as per the figures released by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), unemployment dropped to 3.1 per cent in 2023; it was 3.6 per cent in the preceding year, and according to a Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) data, it was 4.2 per cent in 2021. Besides, the unemployment rates saw a decline both in rural and urban areas. Surely, it makes sense to trust the NSSO over an off-the-cuff remark from an Archbishop.
The Archbishop’s accusation that places belonging to minority members are being bulldozed on “flimsy accusations” deserves to be dismissed with the contempt it deserves. The Church is not a judicial body to determine the innocence or guilt of an accused; let’s leave it to the courts to decide on the issue of flimsiness. The charge that minority rights have been diluted, again, comes with no substantiation. If the government has brought in any legislation, or initiated policies and programmes that have led to the loss of rights of minorities in the country—something that the Archbishop perhaps has exclusive knowledge of—the Church must present the material before the public.
That said, let us remember two facts. One, the appeal put out by the Archbishop of Bengaluru is actually an outcome of a recent meeting that the Catholic Bishops Conference of India organised. Thus, it has a pan-India character, and it’s quite possible that other dioceses may have issued similar directives.
Two, the Bengaluru Archdiocese is not an outlier in wading into issues that are quite removed from its non-political mandate. A similar-sounding appeal for special prayers and fasting had been issued by the Archbishop of Delhi on the eve of the 2019 general elections. It had created such a furore that the Archbishop’s office had to hastily put out a clarification that the remarks should not be seen as being directed against the Union government or the prime minister; the statement added that, in fact, the Delhi Archbishop shared an excellent rapport with the prime minister.
The Lok Sabha election is a religion-neutral exercise. It is understandable for the Christian community to hold special prayers on religious occasions such as Christmas, Good Friday or Easter. But the Church’s intervention in connection with the general elections is uncalled for. What would be the reaction of the Church, or the country’s secularist ecosystem, if Sanatana Dharma leaders such as Peetha heads, Jagadgurus, or Dharmacharyas, were to issue similarly (poorly-disguised) appeals in favour of parties that have expressly opposed minority appeasement?
It must not be forgotten that the Church in India has in the past dabbled in issues that were far removed from religion. Goa offers a classic example.  In the 1990s, the Church in Goa joined the movement to oppose the construction of the Konkan Railway in the state’s territory. The rail line links Mumbai to Mangalore in Karnataka, running its course through the coastal region. The Church gave its support to an assortment of agencies and individuals who claimed to be fighting against environmental degradation, ignoring detailed presentations by experts that made it clear that the project had taken all steps to ensure the protection of the environment.
Eventually, the ambitious rail connection became a reality, following a long-winded public hearing. Today, the Konkan Railway is the most important railway link connecting Goa with its neighbours, Maharashtra and Karnataka—and, one may dare say, the preferred mode of travel for several clergies of the Church.
The writer is an author and a public affairs analystViews expressed in the above piece are personal and solely that of the author. They do not necessarily reflect News18’s views.


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