Dilemma for Indian Church as idea of Hindu nationhood grows Not even educated class sees threat posed by proponents of Hindu nationhood to national integration
On July 11, ten Congress lawmakers in Goa, eight of them Catholics, defected to the Hindu nationalist party — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Ordinarily, defections and horse-trading are not new to a state like Goa where politics is controlled by corrupt casino operators and mining barons. But the move by Catholic lawmakers has shocked Christian voters as well as a section of the Church.
According to analysts the BJP is working hard to expand its electoral footprint across India and to implement the “cultural nationalism” agenda of the party’s ideological mentor, the Hindu hard-line Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), national volunteer corps. The only concession, it has extended to the Christians in the southern and north-east states, where they are numerically strong and a vote bank, is that it will not make beef eating an issue. In the nation’s north, west and east, the authorities have ignored an increase in lynchings targeting beef eaters, cattle traders and others.
During a television discussion last year, senior BJP lawmaker Subramanian Swamy revealed that a party-sponsored think tank concluded that the BJP can win the election by dividing minorities and uniting Hindus. Swamy claimed the BJP’s national rival, the Congress party, won elections using an opposite strategy.
“Our analysis is that for years the Congress’ winning formula has been to create division in the Hindu community and unite the minorities and we came to a conclusion, I think in 2012 in a think-tank meeting, that we should reverse this, you know, our appeal to Hindutva [Hindu nationalism] is well recognized,” he said. “So, the feeling was very strong that we should now try to unite the Hindus and divide the minorities to the extent we can, and the process is continuing.”
The RSS has vowed to make India a mono-cultural Hindu state. Since 2014 hard-line strategists have been routinely raking up divisive issues to keep the “nationalistic” narrative alive.
Rakesh Sinha, a lawmaker and RSS ideologue, told media last September that “there is a need to begin a campaign to force Christian missionaries to leave India.” Attempts are now also being made to impose Hindi on the non-Hindi speaking population, especially in the southern, eastern and north-eastern states, as per the cultural nationalism script.
Since 2015, 1,200-odd writers, retired bureaucrats, scientists, academicians, and economists have issued public statements on different occasions critiquing the BJP-led federal government for not acting against growing “intolerance” and the targeting of socially poor Dalits, minorities and attacks on secular science. The government has chosen to ignore their entreaties.
Many Christians now wonder as to how the Christian leaders could join the BJP, which is controlled by the RSS and remains the fountainhead of several extremist Hindu outfits targeting religious minorities.
Has the Church failed to rein in the Christian lawmakers, who broke the trust of the electorate and mortgaged their souls for power, position and pelf (money)? Or is their defection with the knowledge of church authorities? Or were they simply victims of blackmail?
In recent years two prominent Catholic politicians from southern Kerala state joined the BJP, and last October two former Christian pastors joined the pro-Hindu party in Mizoram.
Congress and Aam Admi Party (AAP) leaders in Goa alleged that the legislators were bribed to switch sides. Some of the Catholic legislators were promptly made ministers. Media quoted AAP convener Elvis Gomes as saying that the: “Casino lobby funded defections from the Congress.” State Congress president Girish Chodankar alleged that his men “changed sides falling prey to blackmail and other luring tactics adopted by the BJP.”
Three years ago, the BJP engineered the unprecedented wholesale defection of 43 out of 45 Congress legislators in Arunachal Pradesh and toppled its government there.
In several states, legislators are defecting from their parties and joining the BJP. In the latest development, the BJP is accused of engineering the defection of 17 Congress legislators in southern Karnataka state, allegedly paying each between 300 million rupees (US$4.2 million) to 500 million rupees. The BJP leaders have trashed all these allegations but took power in the state on July 26.
BJP President and Federal Home Minister Amit Shah has gone on record saying that his party will rule India for 50 years. If his claim bears fruit India is headed for single-party rule.
Christian lawmakers being co-opted in such ways reveals the depth of their moral degradation and the Church’s inability to rein them in. Church sources allege that a section of clergy perhaps think that there is no point in confronting a BJP that rules the country, enjoys a brute majority in parliament and has vast resources at its command. They would argue working with it is in the larger interest of Christians.
However, a senior Catholic priest, who did not want to be named, said buying peace with the BJP-RSS is a suicidal strategy as the BJP is wooing Christians only to further its hegemony.
While almost all opposition leaders have come under the radar of federal investigating agencies, particularly on their financial transactions, those who crossed over to the BJP face no probe. With bishops and even a cardinal facing allegations of financial malfeasance, and another bishop facing a rape charge, the fears within the Church is that BJP could arm-twist some of the leaders.
The priest said of late a divided church leadership has been losing its moral authority with laypeople including lawmakers and it is perceived to be acquiescing to ruling dispensations.
It is alarming to see that even the educated class is not seeing the threat posed by proponents of Hindu nationhood to national integration.
Kay Benedict is a senior journalist and political analyst based in New Delhi.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of ucanews.com.