An ordinary pastoral letter of Archbishop Thomas Macwan of Gandhinagar, Gujarat, appealing to Christians to pray to save the country from “nationalist forces” in the run–up to the Gujarat Assembly polls was made an unnecessary controversy by the media. Arnab Goswamy blew it out of proportion through his TV channel, Republican, terming it as a criminal act.
The most unexpected act came from Gandhinagar Collector and District Election Officer Satish Patel who issued a notice asking Archbishop to clarify his intention behind issuing such a letter. The prejudice of the officer was very crystal clear when he said, “We understand that letter was an attempt to misguide the voters and confuse minority community voters at a time when the model code of conduct is in force. Such a language should not be used”, said Patel. By issuing such a notice the intention of the officer is questionable.
As a leader of the Christian community the Archbishop has full right to create awareness of the socio-political scenario and ask his people to pray to protect the country from divisive forces who are active during the election season. That is the duty of a spiritual leader. Archbishop has not made any statement to provoke violence or hatred in the society. What crime has he committed by appealing to his people to pray that an important government officer has to issue notice to Archbishop asking for clarification? In fact by sending this notice the officer is intimidating not only Archbishop Thomas of Gandhinagar but all who challenge the government and the ruling party. It would be worth to find out who has advised the District Collector and Election officer to send such a notice. By such acts the fear of minorities is substantiated.
Despite provocation, harassment and frequent violent attacks on churches and missionaries Christian community has never reacted violently. Despite suffering violence and murder Christians have set example of forgiveness and reconciliation. A day after the murder of her husband and two boys by the Hindutva fanatics, Gladys Stains, the widow of the Australian missionary declared forgiveness to those who burned her husband and two sons alive. The parents and family of Sr. Rani Maria not only forgave Samandhar Singh who murdered her brutally but requested Government for his early release from the prison.
Many responsible MPs, MLAs and political leaders have issued inflammatory statements against minority communities. None of them were punished. Rajeshwar Singh of Dharam Jagaran Manch had declared, “By 2012 we will finish Islam and Christianity”. Sadhvi Niranajan Jyoti had called Muslims, “ Haramzade”. What action did the Govt. take against these leaders? Were they served any notice by any Govt. official for making such objectionable statements? Similarly no action was taken against those who issued death threats and reward of 6 crore rupees for beheading film director Sanjay Leela Bansali and actor Deepika Padukone for producing the film, “Padmavati”.
Wasn’t the notice issued by the District Election Officer to Archbishop Thomas an indirect threat to be silent and passive? What an ordinary citizen has to do with the ‘model code’ meant for government and political parties contesting elections? By issuing such a notice to Archbishop the Election officer is preventing him from exercising his fundamental right. Does the ‘model code’ prevent a father from giving advice to his children about their political duties? Archbishop is the father of all Christians in his archdiocese and no one could prevent him from educating his children about any subject for the good of the community. Moreover Archbishop Thomas did not incite his people to take up arms and attack anyone. He only asked them to pray to God for peaceful conduct of elections and victory of leaders who believe in the vision and values of the Constitution of India. Issuing a notice to the Archbishop Thomas by the District Collector and Election Officer is a clear act of harassment which should be condemned by all secular and democratic forces. All Christian denominations should protest against this harassment and even file a case against the officer.
It is time for all Christian communities to unite to safeguard the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Bishops and leaders of all religious communities have the right to advise the members of their community with regard to the stand they have to take in times of election.
(Published on 04th December 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 49)