“Turbulent Atmosphere”, Let’s Pray Ahead Of 2019 Polls: Delhi Archbishop

The Archbishop of Delhi has kicked a political storm with a letter that refers to a “turbulent political atmosphere” threatening democracy and secularism and urges all priests to “pray for the country” ahead of the 2019 general election.

The letter, dated May 8 and addressed to all churches in the capital, doesn’t really advocate any candidate or party.

The Archbishop, Anil Couto, also asks in his letter for a prayer campaign and a day of fasting every week “for the nation”. The letter was sent with a prayer that he said must be read at masses on Sunday.

“We are witnessing a turbulent political atmosphere which poses a threat to the democratic principles enshrined in our constitution and the secular fabric of our nation,” the Archbishop says at the start of his letter.

“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 from May 13…” the letter says.

The attached prayer that all churches have been instructed to read out during mass, says: “May the ethos of true democracy envelop our elections with dignity and the flames of honest patriotism enkindle our political leaders. This is our cry, Heavenly Father, in these troubled times as we see the clouds eclipsing the light of truth, justice and freedom.”

The Archbishop’s office has denied any political motive in the prayer, calling it a standard practice before elections.

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The government rejected his charge by saying on Tuesday that his comments reflected his “prejudiced” mindset.

While Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said India did not discriminate on the basis of religion or sect, his ministerial colleague Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi asked the archbishop to come out of his “prejudiced” mindset and asserted that minorities had progressed at a fast pace under the current government.

Couto’s comments were criticised by the BJP, with party president Amit Shah stressing that it was “not appropriate” to polarise people around religion.

The archbishop later clarified his comments were not aimed at the government.

“What I said is, spend time once a week for our nation and especially because elections are coming and government concerns all of us. So it is not in any way pertaining to the government of Narendra Modi,” Couto said when asked about the letter.

Union minister of tourism KJ Alphons said Couto’s remarks were “unfair” to the government and that “godmen” should stay away from politics.

Minister Alphons said Couto’s was an isolated voice.

“Spoke to Cardinal Gracias (Archbishop of Bombay Oswald Cardinal Gracias) and top bishops. They strongly agree with the Prime Minister. There are isolated voices who don’t like the Prime Minister,” he said.

“It is wrong to try and instigate castes or communities. You can tell them to vote for right candidate or party but to suggest voting for one party and not another and term yourself as secular vs pseudo-secular is unfortunate,” BJP spokesperson Shaina NC has said.

Another Union Minister Giriraj Singh tweeted, “The church receives its orders from Italy and the dictate (fatwa) for support to the pseudo secular comes from Pakistan. The day is not far when Hindus will realise this and will give a befitting reply to those (voices).”

CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury said Couto was calling people for a prayer and saying that the values of the constitution of secular democracy had to be protected.

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