(Photo: Reuters/Mukesh Gupta)
Several Indian church officials said that they are not concerned that Hindu extremist groups will increase after a landslide victory for the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the government elections, noting that religious minorities are protected by the Constitution.
"Minorities, such as Christians and Muslims are an integral part of the nation and of the social fabric of Indian society. Minorities are protected by the Constitution, I believe that the new government cannot and will not want to go against the Constitution. As Christians we are confident," said His Exc. Mgr. Stanley Roman, Bishop of Quilon, in the state of Kerala, according to Fides News Agency on Friday.
CNBC reported on Friday that early results from India's five-week long elections are pointing to a big victory for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Narendra Modi. It has already won or is winning 338 parliamentary seats, which is more than the required majority of 272. India's National Congress party, which had been in power for the past decade, was leading in only 68 seats, which is its worst-ever showing.
BJP president Rajnath Singh said at a news conference: "The people of this country have given us a great responsibility."
He added that the resounding victory proves that BJP has "crossed the geographical, political and social boundaries" in its appeal to voters.
Although BJP has been described as Hindu nationalists in some publications, on its website the party states that its philosophy, Hindutva or Cultural Nationalism, is a nationalistic, and "not a religious or theocratic" concept.
Christian persecution watchdog ministry Open Doors, which ranks India as number 28 on its list of countries where Christians face the most persecution, notes that BJP is indeed the cause of some of the country's religious tensions and pushes an ideology that states that every Indian has to be Hindu.
According to the Fides report, however, the church leaders who spoke out do not believe extremist threats will be on the rise.
"We are happy that the elections were a great test of democracy for the nation. The result highlights a strong government that will lead India into a new phase of economic development and progress, observing and ensuring democratic and constitutional values," said His Exc. Mgr. Albert D'Souza, Archbishop of Agra, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, and General Secretary of the Indian Bishops' Conference.
"It is true that sometimes small groups of fanatics can give us concern, but the Church will continue in its mission to pray for the new government and contribute to the common good of the nation, supporting democracy, respect for pluralism, the rights of all and a secular concept in the political agenda."
His Exc. Mgr. Anthony Chirayath, Bishop of Sagar, in the state of Madhya Paradesh, added that India is a nation "with a heritage of ancient cultures, traditions, religions that no government can damage."
Chirayath noted that Christians are a proud part of this tradition.
"It is true that small extremist groups sometimes use violence against Christians: but are deviations which do not alter the reality of a nation that is democratic and tolerant and has a long tradition of harmony between different, ethnic, cultural and religious components. I believe that the Catholic Church will have nothing to fear from the new government," he continued.
"For example, in Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP govern, we have good relations with local political leaders, there is no animosity, but only friendship. In my diocese, many Hindu children attend Catholic schools. We hope and we are confident that the new government, having overcome the disputes of the election campaign, will act for the good of the nation".