The Lok Sabha elections found mention in the Palm Sunday mass at St Pius Church, Mulund. Father Tarsicius Fernandes prayed, “Lord, give us your guidance in voting for the right political representatives. Lord, give our political leaders strength and wisdom.”
As the city draws closer to its polling date on April 24, confusion reigns among members of the Christian community over who to vote for.
Fr S M Michael, chairperson of inter-religious dialogue commission of the Bombay Archdiocese, speaking at the session on political analysis for Christians at Sacred Heart Parish in Andheri (East) on Sunday said, “The main parties do not take Christians as seriously as the Muslims because we are not perceived as lacking political awareness, and not as a significant vote bank.”
According to Dolphy D’souza, former president of Bombay Catholic Sabha, Mumbai has around 10 lakh Christians. Of these, there were around five lakh registered voters in 2009. Around 58-60 per cent Christians voted in the last Lok Sabha elections.
Freedom to propagate their religion and freedom from the fear of persecution are essential for the community. In veiled messages during mass and religious-social gatherings, the leaders and priests of the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian groups, strongly urge and influence the people to vote for a “secular party”.
Violence against Christians, implementation of the Anti-Conversion bill in BJP- ruled states such as Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi having removed Good Friday from the public holiday list (later re-introduced as a holiday), has the Christian community on edge.
In his letter to the community across India, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of the Bombay Diocese and President of the Catholic Bishop’s Council of India emphasised that chief among the needs that must be addressed by hopeful candidates, are secularism and protection of rights of minorities, tribals, and Dalit Christians.
Encapsulating the community’s concerns, Gordon Dsouza, President of the Bombay Catholic Sabha (BCS) said, “Catholics are disappointed with the Congress because of inflation and corruption. However, when we try to look at the BJP as a worthy alternative, the party does cause fear among the people because it is backed by Hindutva groups and has a tainted history with minorities.”
BCS’s Dsouza said, “ We have been organising ‘Meet Your Candidates’ sessions where citizens can interact with the candidates in their constituencies. We have also been trying to create awareness by sending texts and speaking in churches after the Sunday mass.”
At a local-level in Mumbai, the Archbishop has sought to raise the issue of the dwindling space for cemeteries and unreasonable land acquisition from the Church for public projects that “are normally not used for the purpose the land is acquired for.”
While anti-BJP sentiment is high, Christian voters are divided over voting for the incumbent Congress or the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). BCS President Dsouza added, “There is quite a good movement towards the Aam Aadmi Party, however, this is mainly among youngsters. Among the older population, the view is that AAP is a fledgling party that is not yet sound.”
“We don’t have a party we can completely trust. Maybe with the new generation of leaders in Congress, it would do better in the coming years,” said Fr. Matthew.
However in some parts, a strong BJP wave is building up among Christians from the business class, particularly in the North-Central constituency (Bandra-west).
“The Congress has done nothing for Christians in the last 10 years of governance. Whatever benefit has been given to minorities is mainly for Muslims, while we are neglected. We believe that the Modi government will increase jobs, raise the GDP and bring economic and government stability,” said Jerome Dias, a voter from North-Central constituency.
(With inputs from Gautam S Mengle)