Union Tourism Minister KJ Alphons on Tuesday said that the Delhi Archbishop’s statement on a turbulent atmosphere prevailing on the country is his personal opinion and that no other Bishop had voiced support to his comments. Speaking to CNN News 18, Alphons added that the Archbishop had supported Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“This is Arch Bishop’s personal opinion. The head of Catholic Bishops in India says that he supports PM Modi. This government has done more for the poor and minorities. No other Bishop has come in support of Delhi Arch Bishop,” Alphons told CNN News 18.
Alphons’ statement comes after Anil Couto, Archbishop of Delhi, asked priests across India to launch a year-long prayer campaign ahead of the 2019 general elections. He also asked the priests to observe a fast on every Friday ahead of the next general election. Couto’s comment has sparked a political controversy with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) terming it as religious propaganda.
Meanwhile, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has supported the Archibishop’s letter. “We respect all communities, castes & Archbishops across the country, including that of Kolkata. I think whatever they said, they correctly said. It’s a fact,” Banerjee told ANI.
The letter dated May 8 by the Arch Bishop had said that there is a ‘turbulent political atmosphere’ prevailing in the country which is threatening secularism and democratic values. Couto also said that necessary efforts should be made to change the government when the country votes in 2019 to elect a new government.
“It is our hallowed practice to pray for our country and its political leaders all the time but all the more so when we approach the general elections. As we look forward towards 2019 when we will have new government let us begin a prayer campaign for our country.”
This is not the first time that a letter was issued by the church. In the previously held Gujarat assembly election and NE states elections too, the church played an important role. In NE states, the church had issued a clear directive to vote against BJP.
BJP has termed the Arch Bishop’s move as a religious propaganda. Party spokesperson Sambit Patra said that the government is not biased and that his party, as well as the government, respect Christianity. “Sabka sath, sabka vikas, is the tagline of the government. Patra also reminded that it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts on ground zero that led to the priest kidnapped in Yemen being freed as well as the rescue of 46 nurses from the clutches of the ISIS.
RSS ideologue Rakesh Sinha has termed the move an attack on the country’s secularism and democracy. “This is a direct attack by the Church on Indian secularism and democracy, and this is a direct intervention by the Vatican as these Bishops are appointed by the Pope. Their accountability is not to India but to Pope,” Sinha told news agency ANI.
Sinha also urged the government to make strict laws to stop foreign funding to the religious institutions. “The Church organisations used to take this money for a variety of cause but in reality, utilise this only for religious conversions. They want a government to be made so that their conversion business flourishes,” he said to ANI.