Goa Church fires veiled salvo against BJP in voting guidelines issued to the faithful

Early this year, Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao had said that the Roman Catholic Church in Goa will guide its followers to vote for genuine candidates in Goa, for the upcoming state elections. He further stated that the guidelines of the church will not name any political party or candidate. However, even as he said this, a video came out showing a Goan Padre appealing to the people who had come for the annual Christmas mass, to vote for 2 specific candidates, both of whom were of dubious reputation.

The Church in Goa has always played a role in the politics of the state. The last time Goa went for Assembly Elections, Goans had seen a brazenly corrupt Congress Government, and the church had then attacked the Congress. Of course there was no clear naming of any party, but the sermon back then, did not lay any focus on “secularism”, rather, the focus was on “corruption” and “election freebies”.

The next elections seen in Goa were the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, and things had vastly changed by then. The BJP had now turned “communal” since Narendra Modi had been annointed as the PM candidate. Here, the tune of the Church changed, and the buzz-word now was “secularism”. The church expressed concern over “corporate communal forces” and the campaign which saw the “promotion of one individual as if this is a presidential election”. It also commented that “models of good governance” presented to society are a myth, and that those in power and those able to manipulate power like the industrialists were the cause of various types of destruction like indiscriminate mining, unregulated constructions and polluting industries. The hint was clear.

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Come 2017, the Church has now gone fully brazen in its attack. Some in Goa, accuse the Goa BJP of having let-down its own cadre (the splinter group from RSS), to appease the Church, on the issue of Medium of Instruction. But it appears the Church has taken any cognisance of this alleged favour from the BJP led Government.

The Council of Social Justice and Peace, the “Social Work wing  of the Archdiocese of Goa”, on Friday released guidelines to the electorate on how to vote for the February 4 Legislative Assembly elections. It started of on the note of encouraging voters to participate in the election process, but proceedings soon took a political turn.

Various references were made to aspects relating to the BJP ruled Government in the state, and a negative light was cast on the same. A few of these are:

“Rupees ten thousand crore public debt on the heads of Goan Citizens”

“The commissioning of an Investment Promotion Board (IPB) by Union or State Governments” (The Goa Government started such a body to provide a single window clearance to large projects)

The guidelines also chose to refer to the Central Government, in a bid to raise the bogey of Modi, once again:

“In the federal structure of our democracy, the elections to the State Government cannot be seen in isolation from the Union Government. Citizens have to be aware of the reality that any oppressive, discriminatory and destructive legislations and policies proposed at the national level require the collaboration of State Governments for enactment and their cooperation for implementation.”

“The terror unleashed by the State and non-State actors to silence dissent or diverse opinions about governance by labelling them as anti-national or unpatriotic cannot be ignored by Responsible Citizens.”

“nationalisation of our State’s natural resources (referring to the nationalisation of rivers) to push projects in villages and towns by undermining the constitutional powers of the self-governments like Panchayats and Municipalities are in no way expected in good governance”

“The shift from the social policy of ‘Roti, Kapda aur Makaan’ for uplifting the poor sections of the society to an emphasis on digital and cashless policy involving smart phones, ATM cards and Paytm apps as the basic requirement for every citizen to avail of government benefits and purchase their basic needs is a worrisome phenomenon.”

The above clearly signals which way the Church is going: Do not vote for BJP. In the latter part of the guidelines, the Church touches on the issue of the “split of votes” among various parties. This probably refers to the AAP and other regional parties in Goa, who are all vying for a chunk of the anti-BJP votes. The church stops short of telling its flock whom to vote for, but the message of not voting for BJP is clear.

At a time when the Code of Conduct is on, whether such veiled sermons violate any norms is unclear. And even if they do so, no party or person would dare take the Church to task, considering the attack of being “communal” which the complainant may face.

Supreme Court lawyer Ishkaran Bhandari though felt that such negative appeals are exploiting a loop-hole in the recent Supreme Court order which had banned canvassing for votes in the name of religion, caste or language. The Court had forbidden direct appeals by religious bodies to vote for a particular person, but there doesn’t seem to be any restriction on negative appeals to not vote for a particular faction.

In such a situation, the Church may get away without any trouble. The question though will remain about the morality of such appeals, and whether similar appeals in the opposite direction, by other religious persons or bodies, will be allowed similar liberties.

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