The last few years have witnessed a dramatic change in the political ethos and morality of the country. It has reached a new low, with most politicians from across the spectrum demonstrating an unbridled lust for power. Serving the people selflessly is apparently no longer the top priority for many politicians; what matters is to gain power (by hook or by crook) and stay in power. A good percentage of the politicians are really not bothered about the consequences and of the tremendous harm they are doing to the democratic structure, the diversity and the secular fabric of the country.
The minuscule Christian community -- which officially comprises just about 2.3% of the country’s population – has, of late, been hogging the headlines. Unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons. In the past, there were several Christians who took part in the freedom struggle, who were members of the Constituent Assembly and who contributed significantly to the visionary Constitution that has guided the nation. Christians have been at the forefront of education -- educating the ‘creme de la crème’ and others of the nation, providing medicare to those who were sick and, above all, reaching out to the poorest of the poor, the excluded and the exploited, in every possible way, through selfless services, empowering them with justice, dignity and equality and ensuring their rightful place in society. Though all these works continue today, they fade into insignificance, with the new narrative which is throttling the nation.
This new narrative is made manifest with the systematic polarization which the country currently is painfully going through. The votaries of the ‘Hindutva’ ideology are at the helm of this. Besides the ideology does not have any allegiance to the Constitution. They have one clear aim to make India a Hindu nation state by 2025 (when the parent organization, the RSS, completes a hundred years of existence). A full-page advertisement in Hindi in several Varanasi-based Hindi dailies on 15 March 2023 titled ‘Call to become Sanyasi’ says, “Those who have resolved to establish Hindu Sanatan Dharm as National and World Religion ...” with a nine-day rigorous training programme beginning 22 March and ending on Ram Navami, is a clear sign of things to come.
A strategy to realise this exclusive agenda is to target the minorities -- particularly Muslims and Christians -- through a continual process of demonization, denigration and discrimination. They often succeed with their manipulative ploy. Venomous hate speeches are on the rise; those who indulge in them do so with impunity knowing full well that the ruling regime will provide them with all the immunity and protection needed. There are anti-conversion laws passed by some States. Though still in the hearing stage in the Supreme Court, vigilantes, in an unhealthy nexus with local police, take law and order in their own hands. Routine prayer services and worship are disrupted and attacked; false cases of so-called ‘forced’ conversion are made; priests and religious sisters are arrested and even denied bail on the flimsiest of reasons. There are instances when Hindutva elements have demanded exorbitant sums of money from priests, threatening them with false cases, if the money is not received. Christian personnel, institutions and properties are targeted and attacked with frightening regularity.
On the other hand, some Christians including hierarchy, clergy and laity are far from being authentic witnesses to the faith: to the person and message of Jesus. Sadly, there are instances of financial scams, sexual misconduct and other improprieties, which naturally make both individuals and institutions extremely vulnerable and pliable. There are known instances of how the ruling regime has hammered powerful Christians to submission; the underlying posturing is that ‘nothing will happen to you if you join us; if you do not do so, then we will destroy you.’ When a person has lost all credibility, the so-called ‘Christian’ has no choice but to succumb to the blackmail and the threats of the powers that apparently control their destinies.
People often wonder why MLAs and MPs who have been elected under the banner of a political party easily ‘cross the floor’ and join the ruling regime. The answer is obvious. Besides, the ruling regime has plenty of money to buy up politicians from opposition parties. The recent political imbroglio in Maharashtra, which is awaiting a Supreme Court verdict, is a case in point. Many Christian politicians are also easy prey: we have the classic example of ‘Catholic’ politicians in the Goa Assembly elections having absolutely no qualms of conscience to leave their party to join the ruling party.
The recent elections in the three North Eastern states of Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura call for great introspection. The Christian population of Nagaland is estimated to be around 90% and that of Meghalaya around 75%; Tripura has a much smaller Christian population of about 4%. Today, however, in all these States, the BJP is calling the shots, setting the political agenda and in fact, ruling (despite getting just two seats in Meghalaya). The reasons for this seismic political change are several. Many of the politicians (despite being Christian) are corrupt which is no State secret and which the BJP can exploit to their advantage. Then the BJP also used the Christian card singing ‘Alleluias’ and ‘Praise the Lord’ in their campaigning. The BJP was happily legitimising the eating of beef in the north-east; whereas in most parts of India they and their ilk lynch and kill minorities even if the latter just happen to ferry a cow in a vehicle. Then, of course, the Sangh Parivar has its whole armoury of money, muscle, mafia, media and manipulations.
Sadly, several Christian politicians (and surely some people too) were trapped into playing the ‘religion’ card whether it was campaigning with Christian rhetoric or organising a patently unconstitutional swearing-in ceremony for the newly elected legislators of Nagaland. Having a pastor pray and a choir sing a Christian song has only made it easier for the BJP to give legitimacy for Hindu rituals at Government functions and thus to effectively destroy the secular fabric of the country. Of course, several Christians, (who hardly bother about Constitutional propriety and the severe repercussions such so-called ‘Christian’ acts would have on the future of the country) went ‘ga-ga’ when they watched clippings of the Nagaland swearing-in ceremony; there was a similar response when the Chief Minister of Meghalaya went to Vailankanni; those who cheered him did not care a hoot for the fact that the CM has literally sold his state to a fascist regime.
The big news, a few days ago, is that the BJP is going all out to woo the Christians of Kerala during the Easter season. Several efforts have been made in the past; the last elections, however, were a clear zilch for the BJP in God’s own country. The ground realities are different now; the BJP has an upper hand in the face of growing scandals among sections of Kerala Christians. Apparently, some Christians (including some hierarchy and clergy) are warming up to the BJP. Everyone knows why!
Few Christians in the country stand up and speak up for the values of the Gospel which are so beautifully enshrined in the Constitution of India. The nation is suffering as never before. Communalism, Casteism, Criminalisation of politics, Corruption and Consumerism are rampant. At the receiving end of a brutal, unjust and inhuman system are the excluded and exploited, the migrants and labourers, the minorities: Muslims, Christians and others; human rights defenders and those who cherish freedom of speech and ex
Interestingly, in February 2012 at the 30th CBCI Meeting in Bangalore on the theme ‘The Church’s Role for a Better India’, the Catholic Bishops stated, “We sensed in our hearts our country’s yearning for a Better India. Our country has been noted for its deep spirituality, its saints and sages, its rich diversity of cultures and religions. People yearn for the ideal enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution of India of a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic which will secure for its citizens Justice, social, economic and political; Liberty of thought, ex
In his path-breaking Encyclical ‘Fratelli Tutti’, Pope Francis emphasises the fact that democracy with its core values and underlying principles is what political life should be today. This is made amply clear by the constant call for good politics at every level and of a deep involvement in politics by the people. “What is needed is a politics which is far-sighted and capable of a new, integral and interdisciplinary approach to handling the different aspects of the crisis.” In other words, a “healthy politics… capable of reforming and coordinating institutions, promoting best practices and overcoming undue pressure and bureaucratic inertia.” (#177) Towards the end (#276) of the Encyclical, Pope Francis emphatically states that the Church must engage in politics. “For these reasons, the Church, while respecting the autonomy of political life, does not restrict her mission to the private sphere. On the contrary, ‘she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines’ in the building of a better world, or fail to ‘reawaken the spiritual energy’ that can contribute to the betterment of society.”
Those who call themselves ‘disciples’ of Jesus have no qualms of conscience to hobnob (to sup and more) with fascist and fundamentalists, who brazenly destroy the sanctity of the Constitution and the secular, pluralistic fabric of the country. These ‘disciples’ find it easier to indulge in a politics of convenience and compromise; not to take on the Government and police if schools are attacked by the Sangh Parivar or if religious sisters are harassed and hounded out of a train. They are afraid to call for the revocation of the CAA amendments, the UAPA and sedition laws; or the total repeal of the draconian anti-conversion laws; they are frightened to support the protesting farmers or workers or for that matter the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A where Kashmir is concerned. For these Christians standing up to the ruling regime is just not possible. They prefer the more ‘diplomatic’ and ‘cautious’ approach: ‘silence’ they say is important for the ‘greater good.’ Some of them even use scripture to justify their Fear, Ignorance and Exclusiveness. All these are sinful!
Jesus and his teachings are about exactly the opposite. Jesus says to us “fear no one; I am with you!” When Christians have no courage to take a stand for justice and truth, because those who rule us may take away our possessions, privileges, power, position whatever – we are in fact sending a stronger message which is contra-witness: that our faith in Jesus is shallow, mere lip-service; that we really do not believe in Him; that our treasures are with the rulers of this world! Ignorance is never a value: Jesus himself warned us about our inability to “read the signs of the times.” If we don’t stick our necks out, one will perhaps still lose everything, but also one’s own credibility. Christians in India must wake up now and stop betraying the person and message of Jesus and the Constitution of India.
In ‘Evangelii Gaudium’, Pope Francis reminds us that, “The dignity of the human person and the common good rank higher than the comfort of those who refuse to renounce their privileges. When these values are threatened, a prophetic voice must be raised.”
(Fr Cedric Prakash (GUJ) is a human rights, reconciliation and peace activist/writer. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)