Indian Christians rejoice at election of secular government

Church groups in India are overjoyed by the return to office for a second five-year term of a secular alliance, which they regard as a "repudiation of sectarianism".

The Indian National Congress Party led the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to victory in the poll in what is being seen as a triumph for Congress president Sonia Gandhi, UCA News reports.

The Italian-born Gandhi, 62, wife of slain Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and daughter-in-law of former PM Indira Gandhi, also killed in office, steered her party to its best performance in 25 years, falling just 12 seats short of an absolute majority.

The Church is "pleased" that the Indian voters have made "the right choice" to elect the UPA to lead the country, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India said in a press release soon after the results were announced on Saturday.

The ecumenical All India Christian Council (AICC) says it saluted the Indians' "consummate and decisive" rejection of divisive and sectarian political forces in the elections.

Jesuit Fr Cedric Prakash, who manages a human rights centre, says the results were "unprecedented and totally unexpected." He hailed the election as the "triumph of Indian democracy."

Exit polls and pollsters had predicted a hung parliament with UPA having a slight edge over its main rival, National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP or Indian people's party).

In the final tally, the UPA won 262 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha (people's council), the lower house of Parliament. The alliance also claims support of several other parties.

NDA won only 160 seats.

The results ended what is touted as the world's largest democratic and election management exercise that began a month ago.

Fr Hector D'Souza, who heads the Jesuits in South Asia, was happy that the people had opted for stability. He also hoped the new secular government would stop atrocities and persecutions of religious minorities, such as last year's attacks on Christians in Orissa and other states.

Fr D'Souza was also overjoyed that more young people were elected this time and wants the government to fulfill people's aspirations for development and care for the poor.

The Catholic bishops said they were confident the new government would keep its promise to safeguard the country from sectarian and divisive forces and restore confidence among all people, especially religious minority groups.

Church groups had feared there would be trouble for religious minority groups if the NDA had won the election as its leader, the BJP, is the political arm of Hindu rightwing groups that want to establish a Hindu theocratic state in India.

Several groups, including the Church, blame Hindu radicals for attacking Christians and Muslims in several parts of the country in the past few years.


Christians elated by secular election win (UCA News)

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