Christian Representation in Government

Christian Representation in Government

-Why is it so Poor?


by Vera Alvares

Apart from this reason, a Democracy can effectively function only if every faction or community is fairly represented in governance. Denying a role in governance to a whole group of people, however docile and non-aggressive, is not conducive to healthy Democracy. The apathetic attitude only increases the urgency to unite the community under one umbrella to chalk out a strategy before Maharashtra goes to the polls within the next three months to elect the next State Assembly.

The reasons for this have their origins in the loyalty the community has displayed while voting for certain political parties. One look at the existing picture reveals the staunch support the community has always extended to the secular parties, particularly the Congress, in the hope that a Secular government is in a better position to usher in progress and prosperity in an atmosphere of peace and harmony. The community must have hoped that in exchange for this staunch loyalty the Congress party would consider bringing a few of the Christian stalwarts, ( and there are plenty of those around) into the mainstream of governance to accord the Christians their due. This has not happened. Christians always felt privileged at the presence of some members of the community such as Margaret Alva and Oscar Fernandes, at the top-rung of the Congress hierarchy. But decades later that pride is slowly turning into disillusion, since the community has gained nothing from these two and some other stalwarts in positions of power. It is debatable whether they ever raised their voices to fight for the rights of the community or against the attacks on it! To what extent has their presence there served the purpose of raising the community a notch or two in the political establishment or to bring in more Christian leaders into the fold of the Secular party? Is the Congress using the Minority communities to ride piggy-back to victory and power?

Let me clarify here that Christians do not feel unrepresented by leaders of other religions, but only a Christian feeling the pain from the brutal attacks of Bajrang Dal and Ram Sene on his co-religionists will be roused enough to take the community's fight to the corridors of power. Christians are grateful for those of various Faiths who have displayed compassion to their cause through their words, actions and deeds.

Returning to the topic, one would expect a secular party in power to rule with an iron hand where religious intolerance curtails the freedoms of Indians assured to them by the Constitution of India How can one explain the sporadic incidents of violence against Christians even in Congress-ruled States? A Gujarat there and a Karnataka here are forgone conclusions, considering the lax attitude of the administration towards the fringe outfits of the party. But reports of Christian bashing in Maharashtra regularly appear in the press. That the perpetrators of these acts rarely get punished encourages the hatemonger to unleash terror again and again without any fear of the law. Incidents of intimidating school principals, attacking prayer meeting and a subtle yet growing bias against the community are evident even in Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra, a Congress-ruled State. Is there something at play here that lay people like me fail to comprehend?

The media, that powerful voice of the people also takes the community and its grouse flippantly. In the absence of any cry of outrage from the media at the time of Khandamal massacre the few voices raised against the atrocities against Christians were too feeble to reach the right ears or were simply ignored as trivia by the administration. In the absence of strident outcry, support and help in bringing the perpetrators to justice takes a back seat. But such recurring incidents are not without consequences- they influence the masses that can be largely swayed by rhetoric and indoctrination.

Reports say that after the Mangalore attacks in September 2008, the Justice Somashekar Committee that enquired into the violence heard Christian witnesses deposing how ruthlessly the police assaulted the victims rather than the Bajrang Dal perpetrators of terror. Ruefully, some of them detailed how Hindu childhood friends had overnight turned into foes after the incidents and expressed pain at this aftermath of terror! It was evident from the reports that hatred towards Christians was seeping into the very fabric of rural as well as urban society, particularly in States where the Hindu fundamentalists are granted a free run by the administration, resulting in destructive communal clashes. None of this development made it to the National Press and none of it even created a ripple of disturbance in the collective conscience of the nation. Would this have happened if a strong lobby of representatives stood up to fight for justice against such tyranny?

This brings us to a very crucial question- Why is there so little or no representation of the Christian community in governance? It is an acknowledged and documented fact that Christians have contributed a lion's share to India's welfare in terms of Education and healthcare. Social welfare institutions run by Christians dot the length and breadth of the country, tending to the poor, sick and needy. Men and women from the community have turned their backs on the world and its pleasures for the privilege of toiling in these institutions in remote corners of India. These selfless workers fill a void left by the lackadaisical attitude of the government-run social-aid structure. With no reservations the miniscule community has come up with valuable assistance and resources at times of calamities and the network of Christian schools, hospitals, missions and relief centers are engaged in serving the nation without differentiating between castes, class and creed. Why then is the community taken for granted?

For those trouble makers on the prowl for excuses to persecute the community, even Sonia Gandhi's so-called Christian credentials (yet to be displayed through action!) are sufficient. In anticipation of her largess towards people of her own religion much hatred and antagonism had been unleashed against Christians now and then. But thankfully time has proved that she being an astute politician puts more effort into proving herself as an Indian rather than a Christian! Her presence neither assured the Christians any differential treatment such as privileges or positions nor dispelled their fears. So that door is firmly shut in our faces and rightly so.

Politics has now evolved into a power play that raises a pauper to a prince overnight, if statistics can be proved right. If the scramble for tickets by people of doubtful character and derisory qualifications is any indication of the desperation of some to get THERE, the selection process of candidates clearly points towards a vote bank politics. Money and muscle power seems to be the sole criteria, much above the worthiness, education and social track record of the aspirant for securing the right to contest under a party's banner! On this skewed playing field, where is the chance for honest, hard-working and service-oriented Christians to get into the aspirant line-up?

Another fact discussed often is the exploitation of this hapless community. Being loyal to Congress has become a way of life, leaving no room for any new maneuver. The possibility of playing a 'hard-to get' game has never been explored, for fear of dividing loyalties. So the community finds itself pushed against the wall with no other alternative, forced to vote for a Party that is seen as the only escape route. Attempts to solicit tickets to Christian candidates have apparently not yielded any results. The hardliners (hardly any of those among us) attribute this to the growing clout of corrupt elements in the party while most of us see it as callousness of the Congress, or treating us as 'a cheap vote bank'. ( on par with the 'slum vote bank?). But now the time has come to rock the boat of this complacency or rather shake the tree and gather the fruit of decades of Christian contribution to building the nation, our Motherland we serve with love. Who will take the responsibility of leading the community in this exertion?

At present it seems the community is hopelessly divided into numerous religious denominations, conflicting affiliations, into ethnic groups or under cult figures. Where is the strength and perseverance we need if with language and cultural barriers we cling fiercely to different identities? If it is so, we are a divided force and no adversary, friend or foe will take us seriously, politically or otherwise.

Today, is this educated, enlightened community in dire need of dynamic, mass-based proven leadership? It is true that the religion in its purest form stirs clear of anything that does not correlate with the concept of spirituality. In the absence of a course of action chartered by the Church Hierarchy on which the flock is totally dependent for direction, only a firm and dedicated rung of leaders can steer the community towards a well defined political identity. Under these circumstances the lay leadership either scattered on varied missions or duplicating efforts, needs to come out of isolation, regroup and take charge of the Civic and Political needs of the Faithful. Keeping aside individual aspirations, ambitions, personal lofty ideals, the leaders need to unite under one banner to work for the recognition of the community and redressal of its grievances.

So can the lay representative bodies that call themselves 'voice of the Christian community' forge a bond and take the responsibility of opening new channels of communication to prevail upon the political parties to consider Christian candidates to contest the coming elections? The 'voice of the community' should spell out in no uncertain terms the disillusionment of not being considered worthy of being in governance and must be heard in the highest echelons of the corridors of power. . Can the community hope for this?

Our National poet Rabindranath Tagore described India as the 'heaven of freedom': A country where the mind is without fear and the head is held high, where knowledge is free, where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls and where words come out from the depth of truth.

Each year on Independence Day we reiterate these sentiments without much feeling or resolve. New measures implemented to make all Indians equal to one another will make India a country where minds will be without fear, heads will be held high and the fragmentation will cease.......Jai Hind!!

- Vera Alvares

The felicitation of the newly-elected Christian MPs by the Church (reports in the Press)may be viewed as an acknowledgement of the achievements of the community, but the fact still remains that Christian presence in governance is microscopic compared to the major contribution of nation-building by this minority community of 2.4% population. Despite the aatrocities, intolerance, denial of fundamental needs and rights all round that do not bode well for the community, it still maintains its record of service to the nation. Therefore in the face of decreasing religious tolerance and especially the unjustified attacks on Christians and their institutions all over the country, the matter of representation of Christians in governance and law-making bodies assumes grave significance.