A massive controversy erupted a day after a letter written by the head of the Archdiocese of Delhi, Archbishop Anil Couto, asking all churches in the national capital to hold special prayers ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
In his letter dated 8 May, Couto writes that India is going through an atmosphere which “poses a threat to the democratic principles” without specifically taking any names.
“We are witnessing a turbulent political atmosphere which poses a threat to the democratic principles enshrined in our constitution and the secular fabric of our nation,” the letter marked to all parishes says.
“It is our hallowed practice to pray for our country and its political leaders all the time but all the more so when we approach the General Elections,” Couto wrote.
“As we look forward towards 2019 when we will have new government let us begin a prayer campaign for our country from May 13, 2018 which marks the Anniversary of the Apparition of the Blessed Mother at Fatima Consecrating ourselves and our nation to the Immaculate Heart,” he added.
In his letter, Couto has urged all the followers to “observe a day of fast every Friday of the week by forgoing at least one meal…for our spiritual renewal and that of our nation”.
The letter has attracted criticism from various quarters who allege that it is directed at the government led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
But Archbishop Couto defended his letter stating that it had got nothing to do with the Modi government.
“Absolutely not,” stressed Couto when a TV channel reporter asked him to comment on allegations that his letter was an attempt to politicise the upcoming elections.
“I am not politicising upcoming elections. Elections affect everybody and we cannot be isolated from that. We cannot keep quiet. We have the right to pray for the nation and work for nation building, which we are doing. I have not politicised anything,” he reiterated.
Speaking to reporters later on Tuesday, Couto said, “We’ve to have a government that cares for freedom of people, rights and welfare of Christian community.” He reiterated that the prayers are held in all churches for the “our renewal and our country’s”.
Father Robinson Rodrigues, Archbishop’s secretary, said though such prayers took place before every general election, the exercise was being politicised this time.
“Only this time a political colour is being deliberately given to the whole exercise by some people,” Father Rodrigues is quoted as saying by the TOI.
He also clarified that “turbulent political atmosphere” does not refer to any party or regime while adding that it is neither against the government nor Modi.
When asked to comment on the letter, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said told reporters that though he has not seen it, he pointed out that minorities in India are safe.
“I have not seen the letter, but I want to say India is one of those countries where minorities are safe and no one is allowed to discriminate on the basis of caste and religion,” Singh said.
In his reaction, Union Minister of State for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Giriraj Singh said “every action has a reaction”.
“Every action has a reaction. I won’t take a step that disrupts communal harmony. But if church asks people to pray so that Modi govt isn’t formed, country will have to think that people from other religions will do ‘kirtan pooja’,” he told mediapersons.
In his open letter, former Goa Congress leader Savio Rodrigues criticised Couto and the Catholic Church for playing divisive politics.
“The game that the Catholic Church is playing of division is devious and demonic in nature. The democratic principles of this country is not only for us minority but or the majority as well,” he wrote in an article published in Goa Chronicle.
Home Minister’s statement that “minorities in India are safe” is confusing the issue. It is not a question of being safe. It is a question of being free under the constitutional guarantees. That is not happening. The minorities are repeatedly harassed, beaten and even killed in states like Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Haryana and Rajasthan. The archbishop should have reminded people that they have a constitutional and moral duty to come out and vote freely on election day. That is fundamental