When BJP leaders screamed for Muslims to go to Pakistan or a Hindutva leader proclaimed that they will free India of Christians and Muslims by 2021, one got to hear only mild reactions and feeble words of disagreement from the powers-that-be and the media. But all hell broke loose when Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto, in his pastoral letter, urged the Catholic community to pray for the country so that “the democratic principles enshrined in our Constitution and the secular fabric of our nation” are well protected. His innocuous appeal to the Catholics under his guidance invited a barrage of condemnations from the ruling dispensation and a section of the media.
Archbishop Couto’s letter does not have a word about any particular political party; neither it is directed against any leader. It is an exhortation to pray for the nation. It racks one’s brain as to why should a government, which claims to make untiring efforts to bring Achche Din for the people, be worried about an Archbishop’s prayer for the Achche Din of the nation. In effect, the proposed prayer and fasting of the Catholic community is meant to bring good days to the nation through good governance. No party or government need to be worried over ‘prayer for a government that protects the Constitution and its values unless it is hell-bent on re-writing the Constitution and destroying the secular fabric. The interpretation that the letter is a ‘fatwa’ to vote against Modi government is nothing but fulmination of a party which finds the going tough after four years of ‘good governance’.
The Archbishop’s letter springs from his two roles: As a responsible citizen and as the leader of the local Catholic community. As a citizen he has the right to express his opinion about the governance of the country. Donning the second mantle, he is duty-bound to exhort and guide his community members on various issues – both ecclesiastical and secular. In his pastoral letter, he has not deviated an inch from these two roles. It is significant to note that he has not named any party or individual as the preferred choice at the time of the next general elections. On the contrary, there are several Hindu sadhvis and sanyasis who openly campaign for particular individuals and parties during elections and nobody has taken objection to such activities. It is the Archbishop’s reference to the “turbulent political atmosphere posing a threat to India’s democratic principles and secular fabric” that has apparently raised the hackles of the BJP and its offshoots. But mob-lynching, barbaric attacks on Dalits, venom-spitting communal speeches, farmers’ suicides, etc. are signs of an ominous situation prevailing in the country.
While the vitriolic criticism of the Archbishop by Hindutva Parivar and a section of the media is understandable, what surprises is the deafening silence of the Church hierarchy in defending their brother bishop who is being crucified for no fault. Instead, some of the Church leaders have acted more Christian than Christ in eulogizing the Modi government. One can understand the so-called Christian representative in the BJP government K. J. Alphonse attacking the Archbishop with all guns blazing. But it is a disservice to the Church and the Nation when its leaders shy away from coming out in support of an Archbishop who gets all the brickbats for no fault.(Published on 04th June 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 22)