The Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), the decision making body of the Catholic Church, recently wrote a letter addressing the Catholic bishops in India to stress on the importance of voting in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. The pastoral letter dated March 14 asks bishops to keep in mind certain things as they make their decision about who they should cast their vote for.
Clarifying that the Catholic Church does not identify or side with any political party, Oswald Cardinal Gracias, the Archbishop of Bombay and the President of CBCI wrote, “I urge every community to pray and discern in prayer what is best for our country. We have to vote judiciously. The Catholic Church hopes that the General Elections will give us leaders who listen to the people, understand their anxieties and their needs and respond effectively.”
The CBCI emphasises that the leaders India needs should ensure that they protect and safeguard the rights of the underprivileged, women, children, Dalits, tribals and so on. The letter says that India needs leaders who will “understand that authority is service” and ensure the following:
1. Work for an economy that seeks specially to help the poor and underprivileged, protecting their dignity, working for their uplift and enabling them to play a role in nation building.
2. Ensure a totally safe environment for all people, particularly women and children.
3. Safeguard the rights of tribals over land, water and forests.
4. Take particular care of Dalits and ensure that they are not discriminated against, granting equal rights to all Dalits.
5. Promote communal harmony and a spirit of national integration through inter-religious dialogue and understanding.
6. Take steps to protest the environment, preserving riches of nature for the future generations.
Highlighting these “national issues”, the letter adds that other local and particular needs should also be kept in mind.
Prior to laying down the above six pointers, the CBCI also argues that while India has made progress in terms of advancement in science, technology, infrastructure and such, there are areas of concern. “The big gap between the rich and poor seems to be widening. Many unorganized and casual labourers are barely about to survive with what they earn. Farmers and those in agricultural sector are under serious stress. Further, ethics is losing primacy as the guiding principle of society,” it says.
“Economics seems to be driving force behind many decisions. India is a spiritual nation, and yet god is slowly being pushed to the periphery. It is in this context and at this moment in history that we are going into elections,” it adds.
Earlier in March, the CBCI had said that the ruling party BJP’s manifesto should prioritise upholding minority rights. In a ‘sankalp patra’ submitted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, CBCI had said that no one needs to prove their nationalism and that “nationalism was in the blood of every Indian, whether belonging to majority or minority. No one should even doubt such a thing or alienate anyone by being suspicious.”
It had stated in the letter to PM Modi that minorities were feeling unsafe due to “suppression of the media, lynching in the name of differences in religious practices, food habits and cultural differences have considerably dented the credibility of the government.”