Artboard 3 Created with Sketch.
In The Name Of Secularism: Why It’s Difficult To Separate Church From Politics In India
Snapshot

Aravindan Neelakandan on how the Church wields its influence in electoral politics in India and why it nobody calls its an assault on “secularism”. 

The Aam Admi Party (AAP) has written a letter to the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Goa against pulpit campaigning. If you just read that and thought that at last the so-called secular parties have come to their senses, you are wrong.

The letter written by AAP to Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao in Goa, states that parish priests 'overtly canvassing for a candidate of their choice' could become a 'dangerous trend' in the coming elections for legislative assembly.

That surely looks secular. That surely looks like a call for the separation of Church and secular affairs of the state, you say? Wait. The letter further reads, "The act of each parish priest of overtly canvassing for the candidate of his choice shall lead to a very dangerous trend and may literally pit one parish priest against another and lead to chaos instead of following any clarion call given by the Church."

If one wants to understand what the letter actually means, one should look at the districts in Tamil Nadu where the Church has a stranglehold in the secular affairs of the believers. There have been instances of Christian candidates standing for BJP being ostracized by the Church authorities. While the Church went on creating fear psychosis on a massive scale among the Christian masses, with the 'intolerance' campaign and fabricated cases of so-called persecutions, some individual priests defied the dictates of the Church and openly supported the BJP. This phenomenon of democratic cracks in the Indian Church where the monolithic control is almost similar to the one in medieval dark times, has worried the Church authorities as well as politicians who rely on such politics of ‘secularism’. It is the paradox of perversion, that pseudo-secularism peculiar to Indian polity: if the religious minorities started making secular political choices then the 'Hindutva' BJP stands to gain.

The Church (both the Roman Catholic Church as well as Dioceses of dominant Protestant Churches ) are running a systematic, sustained, and a tireless campaign against the Modi government from day one. This is despite the fact that the Modi government has rescued Indians, who happen to be Christian missionaries, captured by terrorist outfits. In May 2016, the Madurai Archbishop issued a circular to the faithful, asking his vast herd to vote for the DMK-Congress alliance. However, when this surfaced in the social media and there was a vast outcry, the Tamil Nadu Bishop Council technically distanced itself from the circular though the Madurai Archbishop was the president of Tamil Nadu Bishops Council. The Church, however, had found other means to carry on its campaign. So it carried on the anti-BJP campaign, as a campaign against the New Education Policy draft and the ethical standards of the Church did not prevent the Bishop from having the 2G scam-tainted DMK Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi endorsing the opposition to the draft.

This was no isolated event. In November 2016, the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), an apex body of evangelical Churches, organized a demonstration against the educational policies of the government. The gathering was graced by anti-BJP politicians of every shade. Here is the participant list: 'Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi Mr. Manish Sisodia, RJD Spokesperson Mr. Manoj K Jha, MP of Rajya Sabha Ms. Kanimozhi, General Secretary AICC Mr. Digvijaya Singh, General Secretary CPI-M Mr. Sitaram Yechury, CNI General Secretary Mr. Alwan Masih, Archbishop of Delhi Most Rev. Anil Couto, North West India Council of Churches Secretary Bishop Collin C. Theodore, Senior Journalist Mr. John Dayal, Social Activist Ms. Shabnam Hashmi'.

One can see the coordination and sustained effort and the very political as well as communal nature of the campaign. Recently, right in front of the Defence Minister of India, the archbishop saw it fit to declare that the Church would guide the faithfuls on voting during the upcoming Goa elections. This in itself is a frontal attack on the principles of secularism. But when a so-called 'secular' party writes to a Bishop that he should not allow any dissenting voice within the religious organization so that all shall heed the faithful 'follow the clarion call given by the Church', it is an assault on secularism in its own name.