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Voting, A Christian Duty

Chhotebhai Chhotebhai
22 Apr 2024

It's that time of year when we head to the hustings for the great Indian tamasha, the Lok Sabha elections 2024. The present regime at the Centre is so confident of a third term in office that it has invited representatives from various world political parties to observe the unfolding spectacle.

This confidence, or possibly overconfidence, of the ruling BJP at the Centre has had ramifications, especially among the Christian community. Barring a few die-hards, mainly in Kerala, the Christian community essentially perceives the BJP as being antagonistic towards it. The increasing attacks on Christian institutions and personnel, the withdrawal or denial of licences for social services, the curtailment of foreign funds through the FCRA, the plethora of anti-conversion laws, and the arrest of Christians, including priests and pastors, on the flimsiest of grounds, all add grist to the mill. The raging fires in Manipur and the custodial death of civil rights activist Rev. Stan Swamy SJ; were probably the last nails in the coffin.

Yet some point to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Christmas luncheon with select religious heads and businessmen (mostly from Kerala) as an indication of the PM's statesmanship and regard for the Christian community. Reference is also made to his meeting with Pope Francis in Rome, where he purportedly invited him to India. Firstly, the Christmas soiree was not the first of its kind. Every year Christmas carols were sung at Rashtrapati Bhawan. This practice was discontinued by former President Ram Nath Kovind.

Secondly, actions speak louder than words, and the PM's greetings notwithstanding, his party's track record against the Christian community does not augur well for us, so let's not befool ourselves.

The BJP is confident it will win a third term in the Lok Sabha. As a result, many Christians and others opposed to the BJP have arrived at the erroneous conclusion that they will be wasting their votes. Hence, why take the trouble to vote?

This is an absurd and specious argument. It is like saying, "Why eat food today? We will be hungry again tomorrow". Voting cannot be limited to winning. It also means participating in a process—the festival of democracy. One may recall how a candidate in Rajasthan lost by just one vote. At that time, how many would have rued not having voted, as it could have changed the course of the election.

Even if the person one voted for lost the election, there would always be another time when the number of previous votes would bolster the candidate's confidence. Winning or losing an election should never be viewed as an end in itself.

Let's take some more arguments from real life. Should a student study only if assured of coming on the merit list? Should an athlete or player compete in an event only if assured of a win? So, obviously, winning or losing is par for the course.

Another deceptive argument against voting is the doubts raised by the EVMs. People ask, what guarantee is there that the EVMs are not rigged and that our vote will actually go to the person we voted for? It is a legitimate concern.

But rigging existed long before the EVMs came around. The most notable was the rigging of the J&K Assembly elections during Rajiv Gandhi's tenure. That is why subsequent Chief Election Commissioner James Michael Lyngdoh went on record to say that his most outstanding achievement was conducting free and fair elections in J&K.

As Christians, let us draw inspiration from Jesus himself. His famous statement was, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" (Mat 22:21). This was the basis of secularism, the separation of Church and State and the acknowledgement of temporal authority.

How many of us know that Jesus lost an election, the only popularity contest he ever faced. He lost to Barabbas, a murderer (Mat 27:15ff). Should the giver of life have thrown in the towel then, accepting defeat at the hands of one who had taken the lives of others? Salvation history tells us a completely different story, snatched from the jaws of death.

It would also be worth our while to see what Vatican II has to say about the electoral process and politics, as found in the "Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World" (GS 75). I quote: "Civic and political education is today supremely necessary for the people, especially young people". "Let all citizens be mindful of their simultaneous right and duty to vote freely in the interest of advancing the common good". The document constantly uses the term "common good" in the political context. Some of its statements are: "Men are voicing disapproval of any kind of government which blocks civil or religious liberty, multiplies the victims of ambitious and political crimes and wrecks the exercise of authority from pursuing the common good to serving the advantage of a certain faction or of the rulers themselves" (GS 73). Even in such dictatorial circumstances it expects that "the choice of government and the method of selecting leaders are left to the free will of citizens" (GS 74). The quotes are unambiguous. As citizens and Christians, we must participate in the political process and exercise our franchise.

It is not for me to "advise" others on whom to vote for. No party or candidate is sacrosanct. They all have shortcomings, some more blatant and glaringly obvious. However, I do have some words of caution for Christian voters in Kerala, Goa, and the North East, where they are in sufficient numbers to impact the elections.

I am particularly concerned about Kerala, which the PM seems to be wooing. Very recently, some Christian organisations screened the movie "The Kerala Story", which is prima facie fallacious propaganda and targets a particular religious group. I also read a report by Sri Verghese Joseph, editor of India Catholic Matters, that a Marian centre in Alleppey had influenced Anil Antony and his mother, Elizabeth, to join the BJP as if it was God's will. This is when Anil's father, AK Antony, is a staunch Congressman, having been both Chief Minister and Defence Minister. Undoubtedly, the highly educated laity of Kerala will not fall for the machinations of such jaundiced clergy.

Goa has the dubious distinction of voting for turncoats, who jump ship the moment the results are out. All I can say is, please check the antecedents of the candidates you vote for.

As for the North East, I am aware that these States depend on Central funds; hence, they tend to ally with the party in power there. They need to understand that in a Lok Sabha election, they are voting for the whole of India and not just their region. Allying with a party that has a blatantly communal agenda is making sacrificial goats of vulnerable Christians in other States where they are in no position to defend themselves.

For the fence-sitters, I have a small example. The pipal tree's seed is tiny. If it lodges in a crevice in a rock or building, it will grow exponentially without water and other nutrients, cracking it wide open. Size doesn't always matter. So please go out and vote for our country and the common good. Jai Hind.

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