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ICC Note:

An Archbishop in India’s Gujarat state has responded to a notice by the country’s election commission served to him after he issued a call to prayer that the country is “saved from nationalist forces”. The Archbishop issued this call to prayer ahead of the Gujarat state elections. The election commission served the Archbishop notice because they claimed it was an attempt to ‘generate fear’ among voters to ‘divide people on the basis of caste and creed’. Under the current BJP-led government, whose party will likely win the Gujarat elections, religious intolerance and attacks on religious minorities has skyrocketed. Many blame this on the ideology the BJP shares with the radical Hindu nationalist groups responsible for much of the increased violence. Will the Archbishop be sanctions for his call to prayer?  

11/28/2017 India (Christian Today) – Ahead of elections in Gujarat, India’s westernmost state, next month, the Catholic Archbishop of its capital, Gandhinagar, has been rebuked by officials in the election commission for urging voters to ensure that the country is ‘saved of nationalist forces’.

The Gujarat election commission on Saturday ‘served a notice’ on Thomas Macwan, the Archbishop of Gandhinagar and sought an explanation regarding a letter he issued to the Catholic community seeking prayers that voters ‘remain faithful to the Indian Constitution’ in order that the country can be ‘saved of nationalist forces’.

According to the Indian Express, officials said the action was taken on a complaint received by the Election Commission of India (EC) from the Legal Rights Observatory seeking ‘immediate action’ against the archbishop, whose letter dated November 21 was, it claimed, an attempt to ‘generate fear’ among voters to ‘divide people on the basis of caste and creed’.

Archbishop Macwan said in response: ‘The letter has only been sent to the Christian community to pray. We can always pray for good humans to be elected as leaders. It has not been issued with any malicious intention to harm anyone.’

The letter described the Gujarat election as ‘significant’ for the future ‘course of our country’ but did not make any references to political parties or explicitly say which way people should vote. It warned that ‘the secular and democratic fabric of our country is at stake’. India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, is a Hindu nationalist and leader of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

It said: ‘The dates of the Gujarat state Assembly (polls) have been declared [December 9 and 18]. The results of this election are significant and it will have its repercussion and reverberation throughout our beloved nation. It will influence the course of our country. We are aware that the secular and democratic fabric of our country is at stake. Human Rights are being violated. The constitutional rights are being trampled. Not a single day goes without an attack on our churches, faithful or institutions. There is a growing sense of insecurity among the minorities… poor and so on. Nationalist forces are on the verge of taking over the country. The election results of Gujarat State Assembly can make a difference.’

Further, the letter urged the churches in Gujarat to hold prayers for the selection of ‘humane’ candidates, adding: ‘The Bishops of Gujarat state request you to organize prayer services in your parishes and convents so that people, who would remain faithful to our Indian Constitution and respect every human being without any discrimination, are elected in the Gujarat state Assembly.’

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