Catholic bishops in India have said they have nothing to fear from the country's new government following the landside success of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies.
“It is true that sometimes small groups of fanatics can give us concern, but the Church will continue in its mission to pray for the new government and contribute to the common good of the nation, supporting democracy, respect for pluralism, the rights of all and a secular concept in the political agenda,” Archbishop Albert D'Souza of Agra, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, told Fides news agency.
He said the elections were “a great test of democracy” and their result “highlights a strong government that will lead India into a new phase of economic development and progress, observing and ensuring democratic and constitutional values.”
Bishop Anthony Chirayath of Sagar, in central Madhya Pradesh state, was also confident. “I believe that the Catholic Church will have nothing to fear from the new government.”
In the national elections concluding May 12, the National Democratic Alliance, led by the BJP, won over 330 seats of the 543 in India's lower house of Parliament, a decisive victory over the ruling Indian National Congress party. Over 500 million ballots were cast, with voter turnout estimated at 66 percent, Reuters reports.
Key issues in the elections included corruption, economic issues, women's safety, and national security.
Narendra Modi, the BJP candidate for prime minister, has been associated with economic prosperity but he is also accused of failing to stop anti-Muslim rioting in Gujarat, where he is chief minister.
In the late 2000s, BJP members and party leaders in northeastern Orissa state also faced accusations of enabling the persecution of Christians.
Bishop Chirayath said that India has a heritage of ancient cultures, traditions and religions that “no government can damage.”
“Christians are part of all this and are proud. It is true that small extremist groups sometimes use violence against Christians: but are deviations which do not alter the reality of a nation that is democratic and tolerant and has a long tradition of harmony between different, ethnic, cultural and religious component.”
He said that the Church in his BJP-governed state has good relations with local political leaders and many Hindu children attend Catholic schools.
“There is no animosity, but only friendship.”
Bishop Stanley Roman of Quilon in Kerala state, where the Christian presence dates back to the apostle Thomas, said that minorities like Muslims and Christians are an “integral part” of India.
“Minorities are protected by the Constitution, I believe that the new government cannot and will not want to go against the Constitution. As Christians we are confident,” Bishop Roman told Fides.
The Global Council of Indian Christians stressed the importance of limiting “the violent action of Hindu extremist groups.”
Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Catholicos, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, congratulated the BJP on its “convincing victory.”
“We hope and wish that the new government will continue to uphold the eternal values, secularism and principles of democracy to lead the nation on the path of development,” he said on behalf of the bishops’ conference May 18.
The bishops noted the new government’s responsibility to ensure the security of minority groups and to show “special consideration” towards the country’s weaker sections, the Times of India reports.
“The Catholic Church in India will continue to extend its creative support to the activities of the government in the process of nation building,” the cardinal said.
The bishops encouraged the Indian National Congress party to learn from experience and to act as “a creative force in the opposition.”
Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul, the party’s campaign leader, both offered their resignations after the defeat, though party leaders rejected the offer unanimously, the BBC reports.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the Archbishop of Bombay, also congratulated the BJP on its victory. He prayed that God will bless the government with “wisdom, courage and selflessness” and that it will work for all people of India, especially the poor, the marginalized and minorities.
“The Church will always continue to work for the welfare of our people,” the cardinal said.