Indian Bishops Give Election Guidelines

Urge Voters to Choose Candidates With Concern for Poor

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NEW DELHI, India, MARCH 5, 2009 ( The bishops of India are urging voters to elect officials who will uphold democratic principles and the rights of the poor and marginalized.

A statement released Monday by the secretary of the Indian bishops’ conference, Archbishop Stanislaus Fernandes, appealed to voters to “select and promote candidates without any criminal record or background and having the genuine concern for the youth, women and particularly for the poor and marginalized at heart.”

India’s electoral committee announced Monday that the country’s general elections will be held April 16 till May 13. Given the geography of the country, several weeks are required for the 671 million voters to choose their officials.

The bishops appealed to the citizens to vote for officials who will uphold the constitutional commitment to “religious, racial, cultural and linguistic pluralism,” and who will “protect by all means the right to life in all its stages, as a fundamental human right.”

They called for candidates who will “commit to the eradication of poverty and total elimination of illiteracy from our country, as a top priority with a time-bound program by striving for the overall development of the poor and marginalized and providing compulsory primary education for all.”

Special concerns

Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, president of the conference, told AsiaNews that the future government should “not encourage religious fundamentalism” and should promote “the freedom to profess and practice faith as enshrined in the Indian Constitution.”

He expressed concern over the election results, especially in the current context of economic crisis, social tensions and the recent episodes of religious intolerance, including the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. He also spoke for the plight of Dalit Christians, victims of recent persecution, and called for their situation to be “rectified immediately.”

“These are critical times in the country,” Cardinal Vithayathil said, “and the Church, while it does not participate in party politics, has a moral obligation to ensure that our people vote for a party that will ensure the sovereign democratic and secular credentials of our beloved motherland.”

“I have already written to the Carmelite monasteries,” he noted, asking them “to pray incessantly for the Indian general elections.”

He added: “Prayer is the best weapon we have to build a secular India. Special prayer services will also be held all over the country, to build, protect and defend our secular India and ensure constitutional rights for the marginalized and minorities in the country.”

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Complete statement from Indian bishops’ conference:

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