NEW DELHI, India, MAY 16, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Indian voters decided “not to give in to fundamentalism” when they handed a victory to the Congress Party over the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, says the Catholic bishops’ conference.
“The people of India have voted for peace and social harmony,” conference spokesman Father Babu Joseph Karakombil said.
The people “have chosen not to give in to fundamentalism, not to mix politics and religion; they have demonstrated that they want a secular nation built on the values of tolerance and freedom,” the Divine Word missionary told the Vatican agency Fides last Thursday.
The BJP had called early elections in view of good results on the political level, peace negotiations with Pakistan and a growing economy. Few political observers predicted that the BJP would suffer in the elections.
The BJP’s agenda of strong nationalist policy had given rein to Hindu fundamentalist movements following the Hindutva ideology of one people, one language and one culture.
Father Karakombil said: “The triumph of the Congress Party means there will be a change in India’s policies. It is in fact the moderate mind of the people not steeped in religious nationalism but a champion of a secular state founded on values guaranteed by the Constitution.”
“Minority groups, including India’s Christians, welcome the outcome of the vote because they know Congress will adopt policies which are for tolerance and progress and which foster social and religious harmony rather than increase tensions,” the bishops’ conference spokesman added.
“They have chosen not to give in to fundamentalism, and shown that they believe in the values of freedom and democracy,” Father Karakombil said.
Christians recalled that in its electoral campaign the BJP included the question of “forced conversions” and the bill which requires a citizen to get permission from a magistrate to change religion.
According to the spokesman of the bishops’ conference, the BJP was defeated for essentially three reasons: “unsuccessful economic program favoring middle and upper class sectors leaving million of citizens impoverished and unemployed; policies towards religious minorities causing social tensions in several states; [and the] break-up of the Alliance of various regional parties with very different political aspirations and agendas.”
In Pakistan, Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore, president of that country’s bishops’ conference, said: “We welcome the news that Congress Party has won the elections and we hope the party will carry forward and intensify the peace process started between India and Pakistan. This victory is a good omen for dialogue and peace.”
“The Bharatiya Janata Party was a nationalist party which promoted one religion only, whereas Congress Party is open to all religious groups, be they Hindu, Muslim, Christian or other and it has a secular vision of India,” Archbishop Saldanha added.
“It brings with it a baggage of dialogue and respect for different cultural and religious identities of the minority groups,” he added. “This is why we welcome and appreciate its contribution and hope it will intensify political and economic collaboration between India and Pakistan.”
In the meantime in India, Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, leader of the Congress Party, is already seen as a Prime Minister, at the head “of a strong government, never before so stable and secular,” Archbishop Saldanha explained.
Gandhi’s two sons Rahul and Priyanka accompanied their mother across the country asking for votes to oppose the nationalist right wing which made religious conflict its banner.