By Jose Kavi
New Delhi, March 16, 2019: As India gets ready for the world’s biggest exercise in democracy, the head of the Catholic Church in the country has called upon people to elect leaders who listen to people, understand their needs and respond effectively.
“I urge every community to pray and to discern in prayer what is best for our country. We have to vote judiciously,” says Cardinal Oswald Gracias, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), on the occasion of the general elections.
The election is scheduled to be held in seven phases from April 11 to May 19 to elect 543 members of the 17th Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian parliament. The counting of votes will be conducted on May 23 and on the same day the results will be declared.
The CBCI has been issuing guidelines for voters before every general election in the past three decades.
What Cardinal Gracias has done is to issue a pastoral letter to exhort people to exercise their franchise as a “sacred obligation” they owe to their country.
“As pastors of our people, we bishops consider it is our duty to address through this pastoral letter so that joining hands with all people of good will, our community can effectively contribute to shaping of the future of our nation,” the cardinal says.
The cardinal’s March 14 pastoral letter points out that the total Indian electorate outnumbers the combined population of Europe and Australia.
“All of us truly proud of our country: the generally peaceful election process getting better each time as every government tries to make improvements. India can truly be a model for other countries to imitate and adapt to the local circumstances,” the Indian cardinal claims.
The CBCI president has reiterated that the Church’s stand to not identify with or support any political party in the election.
The cardinal acknowledges the contribution of successive governments for the tremendous progress India has made over the years so that it has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
All this has generated “great hope for the future” among people, the cardinal observes. At the same time, the areas of concern include the widening rich-poor gap, inability of unorganized and casual laborers to survive on what they earn, and the great stress among farmers.
“Further, ethics is losing primacy as the guiding principle of society. Economy seems to be the driving forces behind every decision. India is a spiritual nation, and yet God is slowly being pushed to the periphery,” the cardinal regrets.
The Church leader urges people to elect leaders who understand authority is service and lists six traits of a good leader.
According to Cardinal Gracias, such a leader should work for an economy that seeks to help the poor; ensure safe environment for all, particularly women and children; safeguard the rights of tribal people; care for Dalits; promote communal harmony and a spirit of national integration; and finally, protect environment.
The pastoral letter ends with an appeal to Catholics in the country to pray in churches and at home for a good government.
India now has more than 900 million voters who will go to nearly 1 million polling booths managed by more than 10 million election officials over several weeks.