The increasing interference of the church in Indian politics should make Indian government sit up and formally take note. It must either issue a cease and desist demarche to the Vatican’s representative in Delhi, or derecognise the Vatican as a state altogether. No country is bound to recognise any religious organisation as a state with sovereign rights in a secular world.
In many state elections over the last few years, church fathers have been asking their flocks to vote against the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). They have thus pitched their tents fully in the opposition camp. This happened in December 2018, when a bunch of bishops, pastors and priests from many south Indian churches promised support to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s M K Stalin. Other bishops and cardinals have done so in other states (read sampler stories here, here, here, here, here).
It is one thing for priests to articulate their own personal political preferences in private, quite another to misuse the pulpit to influence elections formally.
One could counter-argue that various Indian gurus, babas and shankaracharyas often bat for various politicians. So why blame only the church?
The answer lies in one simple fact: the Vatican is a state, represented by an ambassador in India. And all cardinals and bishops are appointed by the Vatican. This implies that an outside state is appointing multiple ambassadors under the guise of practising religious freedom, when they are really trying to influence politics in India. This is unacceptable in a secular state. If Russian interference in US politics is unacceptable, one wonders how the Vatican’s interference in India is any less of a crime.
China makes no bones about the fact that the Vatican cannot appoint any priest without its concurrence, and any appointment that bypasses the government is tantamount to interference. Last September, the Vatican and the Chinese government agreed to a deal under which the former accepted all the bishops appointed by the Chinese government as legal, and future appointments will now involve both parties having to agree to the names.
What this implies is that the Chinese have formally recognised the Vatican as a state, and the Vatican has accepted that what it does in China must have the concurrence of the Chinese state. It is a state-to-state deal.
Even in the case of Protestant churches, though they no longer formally report to foreign bosses, the fact is that the Queen is the formal head of the Church of England, and the Churches of North India and South India are part of the Anglican Communion, where the Archbishop of Canterbury is first among equals, but without formal authority outside the Church of England.
Power in many Protestant churches has passed from British to American hands, and the latter have wielded enormous influence in US politics. They have managed to get laws legislated to make the US the supervisor of religious freedom around the world – though no country recognises this authority beyond a point. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is one such organisation created by US law to interfere in matters of “religious freedom” all over the world. Since churches in India invariably feed stories to the USCIRF, they sometimes work against the government in power, especially those that are identified with Hindus like the Bharatiya Janata Party.
If the Indian government has any self-respect, it should send the Vatican packing and downgrade the embassy to a mere representative office of the Pope. A Christian version of the Shankaracharya deserves to be treated with respect, but not the kind of respect due to a head of state.
Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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