When spiritual leaders get political

First it was Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi. Then came the impeccable Julio Ribeiro, former Mumbai police commissioner, DGP Gujarat and Punjab, and ambassador to Romania. Now Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao of Goa has spoken. There are others who have not gone public. So, is the common theme between them not to vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party in the general elections of 2019?

In fact, in 2014, Christians across India — especially in the state Assembly election in tiny former Portuguese enclave Goa — voted for the BJP in large numbers. They wanted a change for the better. Things are different this time as even the hoi polloi in the recent Parliament and assembly by-polls have indicated.

In fact, while Archbishop Ferrao of Goa faced political criticism for claiming that India’s constitution is in danger, he earned applause from the laity. In a 15-page pastoral letter to all churches in Goa released on June 2, the prelate focused on Christian concern for poverty but in the last part, while speaking about human rights, he commented on the constitution. “In recent times, we see a new trend emerging in our country, which demands uniformity in what and how we eat, dress, live and even worship: a kind of monoculturalism. Human rights are under attack and democracy appears to be in peril,” he wrote. The letter said that during election campaigns politicians confuse people with false promises. “Our constitution is in danger,” the Catholic spiritual leader said.

Referring to the national election due next April, he urged Catholics to become active in politics to promote secularism and other values of the constitution. “We must strive to know our constitution better and work harder to protect it,” Archbishop Ferrao said. Although the pastoral letter focused on various forms of poverty that need urgent attention in Goa, the media picked up sentences and interpreted them as a political appeal to oppose the BJP which rules most states today.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad accused Catholic leaders in India of acting at the behest of the Vatican to stir up the political atmosphere. Central Minorities Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on June 5 said apprehensions about the safety of minorities are misplaced, adding that the constitution and governments protect the rights of minorities in the country. 

Michael Gonsalves