Church leaders see victory for secularism in Bihar elections

Defeat of India's pro-Hindu party a boon for religious minorities.

Patna: UCAN – The defeat in a state election of the ruling pro-Hindu party that runs the federal government is viewed as a victory for secular and democratic values in India.

A three-party alliance won an absolute majority, bagging 178 seats in a 243-seat legislature in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, leaving the Bharatiya Janata Party-led alliance with only 58 seats.

"It is an assertion of our age-old democratic and secular values, the very ethos of the nation," Archbishop William D’Souza of Patna told Patna Archdiocese is based in the Bihar capital, which has the same name.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi extensively campaigned in the state to push forward the party ideology of Hindu nationhood.

The Bharatiya Janata Party is considered the political wing of Hindu groups working to turn India into a Hindu nation.

Christian leaders have complained of increasing violence against their people in states where the party is in power.

Modi’s party won a majority in last year's national elections. However, he lacks a majority in the upper house of parliament.

A Bihar victory would have consolidated his party's strength in parliament as the upper house is made up of representatives of state legislatures.

Attacks on religious minorities, such as Christians and Muslims, have increased since the Modi's party came to power. In recent months, at least 50 national award-winning literary figures have returned their awards to protest what they call increasing "intolerance" against diversity in the country. 

"India is a multicultural, multireligious country and it has remained united because of its secular and democratic values, especially religious tolerance," explained Jesuit Father Anto Joseph, a social activist.

He sees the Bihar election as "a battle of ideologies" with voters rejecting an "assault on people’s democratic rights and freedoms."

Father Philip Kattakayam from Patna Archdiocese pointed out that Christians are a "minuscule minority" of some 53,000 in Bihar, forming less than half a percent among its 82 million people.

"It’s so unfortunate that the church does not have any significant political presence. It remains cut off from the major political discourse when issues of intolerance and minority bashing are threatening the very fabric of the country," he said.

"We are afraid to take a political stand, no matter what the issue is," he added.

Opponents of Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party say that ever since the party swept the national elections, it has attempted to carry out the ideology of Hindu nationhood with attempts such as a national law banning the slaughter of cows, an animal sacred to most Hindus.

Source: UCAN

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