Crash course to show India’s Christians how to vote


Will it have any impact on the 2014 election?



  • John Dayal, India
  • India
  • September 10, 2013



Great hope is being pinned on a recently launched crash course in electoral politics for the Christian, particularly the Catholic, population in India to prepare them for the general elections scheduled for early 2014.

The object is to counter and, if possible, defeat right wing Hindu nationalist groups who are making a determined bid to wrest political power in New Delhi in the general elections. The Church leadership and laity are being told how they can synergize their voting strength in select constituencies in collaboration with other groups in so as not to divide what is said to be the “secular vote”.

This, it is presumed, will help defeat the political parties with a history of antagonism towards religious minorities.

This political exercise has been undertaken by a small group in the Archdiocese of Delhi working with representatives of Protestant churches and Muslim religious leaders, apart from a handful of civil society activists.

But members of the core lay team spearheading this campaign in applied democracy have their work cut out. They face problems ranging from rank incredulity on the one hand to the passive disinterest of people who feel they are too few to make any impact. The upshot is that many feel they will not be missed if they don’t vote. This feeling of resignation could have far reaching consequences.

The Christian community in India is so small as to seem irrelevant. At 25 million people, it accounts for only 2.3 per cent of the national population, or one fifth of India’s largest and politically powerful Muslim minority community. While there might be more Christians than Sikhs, the Sikh community is concentrated in Punjab from where they control the state legislature and government, and can have their voice heard decisively in the country’s parliament.

In contrast, the states where Christians are a substantial proportion of the population – Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Goa and Kerala — are themselves politically miniscule, with a total of less than 30 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha. Uttar Pradesh alone, for example, has 80 seats.

Historically, the Christian community, with some individuals as exceptions, has been considered close to the Indian National Congress. It was loyal to Mahatma Gandhi and to Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of the country. And over the decades it has to an extent remained loyal to Indira Gandhi and her Nehru-Gandhi clan, which controls the ruling Congress Party, though no one of the clan holds any ministerial position at present.

The opposition parties, especially the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, have jeered at Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi for her Italian Catholic origins, but the Christian community itself has derived no advantage from this connection.

There have been no Christian chief ministers of any major state in the past, other than of the tiny three in the north east, and Goa and Kerala on the west coast.  In other areas, disempowerment of Tribal Christians continues to be a sad fact of life, and Dalit Christians in particular feel betrayed by the Congress-ruled federal government.

There is a deep seated feeling that development funds for religious minorities have been sluiced to the Muslim community, deemed to be a “vote bank” of Congress and Samajwadi political parties, at the cost of the silent Christians. This by itself failed to arouse the community for years.

The turning point, one feels, was the anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal in Orissa state in 2007 and 2008. The sheer magnitude of the violence shocked the community and its religious and secular leadership out of their torpor.

There had been more than 20,000 “communal” riots, or religion-based acts of mass violence, since 1947, but the victims in almost all of them were Muslims. The Sikh community was the victim of mass violence in 1984 following the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.

Though there had been thousands of sporadic and isolated acts of violence against pastors, priests and nuns, there had been just one case of mass violence, and that in Tamil Nadu. Kandhamal suddenly made the Christian community aware of its vulnerability.

The lack of an adequate and comforting response from civil society and political parties also made it clear to the Christians that they really had no political voice, and had to find one.

It is impossible for the Christian community to become politically viable on its own strength. But many in the community have come to realize that they can be a force-multiplier if they act in concert, and perhaps in alliance, with other like-minded groups.

The cementing factor is the common concern against the rise in religious fundamentalism triggered by the right wing Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and its political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party. It rules in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Punjab [in a coalition with the Akali Dal of the Sikhs].

The recent emergence of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, widely presumed to have encouraged a veritable genocide of Muslims in 2002 in his state, as a prime ministerial candidate in 2014 has brought a rare sense of urgency.

Christian leaders realize that with Muslims and other “secular” entities, they can make a difference in perhaps as many as 140 parliament constituencies, which could be decisive when it comes to the formation of a future coalition government.

The Muslim community is known for its “strategic voting” which maximizes its presence by giving a winning edge to select candidates who have the best chance of defeating anyone seen as being communal or sectarian.

The call now is for the Christian community to adopt and join this concept of strategic voting, and help the electoral prospects of candidates – and they can be of any of the political parties – who have the best potential of defeating candidates with a known communal bias or track record of hostility towards religious minorities.  It is not an easy task to educate a Christian community scattered widely across the country, split into denominations, cultural rites and scores of language and cultural groups.

The time is short, the resources very limited, and the experience extremely little for extensive political mobilization at the grassroots. But the collective adrenalin is pumping high, as early reports come in of a swing of the young and the middle class towards Narendra Modi, with his known animosity towards religious minorities.

Perhaps nothing may come out of this exercise in a worse case scenario. But the newly acquired political awareness will be useful in the future building of a community that is aware and proud of its identity and knows how to assert its rights for development and security equity under the constitution.

John Dayal is the general secretary of the All India Christian Council and a member of the Indian government’s National Integration Council

Source: UCAN News..


Nehru and Gandhi at the opening of the Indian ...

Nehru and Gandhi at the opening of the Indian National Congress, 1937. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)







  1. Hemen Parekh said,

    September 16, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    What exactly / precisely , will you do ?

    Expected has come to pass
    Narendrabhai Modi has been declared as the PM candidate of BJP
    On TV channels , experts are offering advice to BJP / NaMo , on how they should conduct themselves PRIOR to 2014 national elections
    For the voters , what matters is :
    “ If BJP were to be voted to power , how will it conduct itself , AFTER the elections ? After NaMo becomes PM ? “
    All that we have been hearing from NaMo and other BJP leaders , over the last one year is :

     Congress is corrupt

     UPA 2 is incompetent

     All of their policies are wrong , leading to price-rise , inflation , economic downturn etc

     They failed to do THIS and THAT

    But not a word so far of what exactly / precisely , BJP / NaMo would themselves do , if voted to power !
    I certainly don’t mean distribution of free laptops , tablets , mobiles , cycles ! Forget the manifesto !
    As a citizen , I would like them to declare NOW , their unambiguous stand on :

     Disallowing “ convicted “ persons from contesting elections

     Bringing political parties within the ambit of RTI

     Appointment of a Lok Ayukt in Gujarat and passing of Jan Lok Pal Bill within 100 days of coming to power

     Make CBI independent of Government

     Passing Women’s Equal Representation Bill, pending for 40 years

     Electoral Reforms incorporating , “ Negative Voting / Right to Recall “

     Passing of Delivery of Services Act

     Bringing out Black Money ( both , foreign and local ) for investment in Infrastructure / Health Services / Education / Housing for the poor etc , thru suitable “ No Questions Asked “ Amnesty Schemes

     Above all ,creating 15 million jobs every year

    These are , just a few of the people’s expectations
    Are BJP / NaMo willing to treat these as voters’ “ Charter of Demands “ ?
    We have had enough of rhetoric oratory
    People are asking :

    “ Forget what UPA failed to do . We know that
    What will YOU do , and WHEN ?

    I hope NaMo / Rajnath Singh realize that , in order to win the forthcoming State elections and , thereby pave the road to win the 2014 National election , they need to come up with honest / transparent and IMMEDIATE answers and a believable ACTION-PLAN . People are tired of mere Congress-bashing !

    • hemen parekh [ 14 Sept 2013 ]


  2. October 5, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    […] Crash course to show India’s Christians how to vote ( […]


  3. Hemen Parekh said,

    October 20, 2013 at 9:28 am

    BJP Poll Manifesto

    Mr Murli Manohar Joshi is in charge of drawing up BJP’s Poll Manifesto for 2014 Lok Sabha Elections

    He has invited suggestions from public for possible incorporation in the manifesto , if found suitable

    Based on my perception of what would benefit the public most ( in order of importance ) , following is how BJP’s manifesto should read :

     Corruption

    We will introduce / pass , “ Anna-Version “ of Jan Lok-Pal Bill within 2 months of assuming power at the Center

     Jobs

    We will create 15 million jobs per year , starting from 2015

     Economy

    We will liberalize FDI in Insurance / Retail and all other non-defense related sectors of economy

     Productive Use of Un-Productive Money

    We will create a structure, whereby Private sector and Religious Trusts ( such as Tirupati / Lord Padmanabhan / Shirdi SaiBaba / Satya SaiBaba / Siddhi Vinayak / VaishnoDevi etc ) , will come forward to invest , at least Rs 10 lakh crores per year for the next 5 years. This will be done thru,

    • No-Tax ( for 10 years ) , “ Job Creation “ Bonds , exclusively devoted to creation of Jobs for poor people in less-developed states

    • Enabling investments into these bonds , thru a Voluntary Disclosure Scheme ( VDS ) where no questions will be asked as to the source of the funds. This will bring back Rs 35 lakh crores stashed away unproductively / secretly by Indian nationals and Trusts

    • We will create similar “ Job Creation “ Bonds where subscription will be restricted to,

    # NRIs / PIOs
    # Foreign NGOS / Charitable Trusts
    # Foreign Sovereign Funds

    • We will introduce this measure within 6 months of coming to power

     CBI

    We will make CBI truly independent of the Central Government , by making Chief of CBI report to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
    CBI will have its own Expense Budget ( as part of the Central Budget ) and will be free to hire additional professionals without needing permission from any Central Ministry

     Electoral Reforms

    We will introduce , within 6 months , a Electoral Reforms Bill in Lok Sabha. This will have provisions for
    • NOTA

    • Right to Recall

    • Negative Vote …………..etc

     Representation of People Act

    We will amend this Act within 6 months of assuming power , by incorporating provisions for

    • Acceptance of ALL donations to political parties only thru cheques

    • Issue of paper receipts for all donations

    • Publishing on party web site ,

    # full details of funding / expenditure etc

    # full details of Assets / Liabilities / Income Tax Returns filed etc of Senior party functionaries ( including those holding Ministerial positions ) – updated annually

    # full details of FIRs / Court-Cases ( whether criminal or civil ) filed against any Senior Party Functionaries , with punishments awarded , if any

    # number of Lok Sabha / Rajya Sabha meetings attended by its elected representatives

     Naxal / Maoist Menace

    We will eliminate this menace thru full integration of these Tribal areas into the mainstream of the Social / Political and Economic development.
    We will do this by granting special status to these areas , where industries / businesses / NGOs , will be encouraged to set up Skills Training Institutes , by giving accelerated depreciation benefit for the Capital Expenditure incurred and 150 % write-off on the recurring annual revenue expenditure

     Relations with Pakistan

    Whereas we will encourage constructive dialogue with Pakistan to resolve all outstanding issues , this will be done only after Pakistan dismantles all terror-training camps on its territory , as certified by a UN Agency , on an ongoing basis

    Dear Mr Joshi :

    I am not sure how many citizens will take the trouble to spell out their suggestions like this
    My last suggestion is that you frame a “ Multiple Choice Questionnaire “
    Publish this on as many Media as possible – especially Online Web sites
    Then ask people to record their choices
    A Smart Phone based Mobile App would be great !

    • hemen parekh ( 19 Oct 2013 )


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