Daijiworld Media Network - Bangalore
Bangalore, Mar 26: Various denominations of Christian community in Karnataka are miffed by the indifferent and callous attitude shown by the Congress party towards the Christian community. The Congress party has already announced a list of 26 candidates out of the 28 seats for the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections in Karnataka and there is not a single Christian figure in the list. Miffed by the Congress attitude to treat them merely as vote bank, Christians have now come out in the open threatening to re-consider their support for the Congress. Bharatiya Christa Okkoota even held a press conference to this effect today in Bangalore, threatening that Christians would weigh other options including joining hands with other secular parties or even exercising the option of voting for “None of the above”.
It may be for the first time Christians have come out in the open challenging the Congress party’s ‘chalta hai‘attitude of the party. Though there are several causes for the collective anger of Christians against the Congress, not giving even a single seat to the Community in the forthcoming elections has come as a rude shock, which has prompted them to rethink their loyalty to the Congress party. In every previous election Christians were given at least two seats and this time too Christians were betting on getting Bangalore central seat to H T Sangliana and North Kanara seat to Margaret Alva’s son Nivedith Alva. There is no possibility of Christian candidates getting tickets in the remaining two constituencies and hence for the first time in 31 years none of the Christian candidates have been given Lok Sabha tickets in the state.
Not to be taken lightly
Christians traditionally have been Congress supporters and naturally this latest outburst against the Congress assumes great political significance. After speaking to some of the leaders of the Okkoota and also to some leaders of the community it is evident that the rebellion from the Christians stems from the nonchalant attitude of the Congress towards Christians. The party is under the impression that Christians will vote only for the Congress, come what may. But in the changed political equations all over the country, Christians are sending a strong message to the Congress that they are open to other political parties with secular credentials. They may even consider fielding independent candidates in some constituencies where Christians are in majority. Apart from that if the Congress loses the goodwill of the community that might considerably alter the winning prospects of the Congress in many assembly constituencies and a few Lok Sabha seats also.
Ronald Colaco, Chairman of IFKCA opines that the community has been forced to come out in the open against the injustice meted out to the community by the party. He points out “Christians of various denominations have been part of different political parties in the state. But Congress party was fair enough to allot at least two seats to us in all general elections till now. For the first time the community goes unrepresented in the state in the coming elections and that has really angered the community. Many people wanted to come out in the open and make a public protest against the indifferent mind-set of the Congress party. However, good sense prevailed and by holding a press conference our feelings known to the party”.
Valerian Fernandes, Chairman of the Federation of Konkani Catholic Association says “the trend in the last Assembly elections in the state Congress has clearly shown that the Congress was able to win many of the seats by a thin margin of 5000 to 6000 votes. We want to make it clear to the Congress leadership that it is the Christian votes which were decisive in the Congress winning many assembly seats. Having attained victory with our votes they cannot afford to dump us or take our support for granted. It is unfortunate that our community which has been in the forefront in contributing to education, health, social service etc., is left in the lurch by the Congress”.
The Congress is well aware that it might lose the goodwill of the Congress and a division of Christian votes would benefit their opponents. It called H T Sangliana to Delhi to placate him after he threatened to contest from Bangalore Central on JD (S) ticket. The party might succeed in pacifying by promising an important post in lieu of his giving up claim for Lok Sabha seat. But that move alone is not enough to assuage the ruffled feelings of Christians, who are now in no mood to consider the Congress attitude as venial.
Valerian further says the community has been taken for a royal ride by the Congress all these years. “It is a year since the Congress came back to power in Karnataka. In fact the BJP government started the Christian Development Council and allocated suitable funds for it. The NDA government also brought amendments to the Succession Act that benefitted the community. But the Congress is refusing to consider even our basic and genuine demands and it is hurting”, he declared.
Shanthappa Anagalapura President of Karnataka Christa Alpasankhyatara Jagruthi Vedike also echoes similar views and justifies that decision of the community to rethink on its support to Congress. “The slipshod behavior of the Congress is surprising and we will not tolerate it any more. It is a matter of shame that we have to go on representations to the party regularly on various issues with zero- end results. We have asked the government to appoint Christians as heads of some of the Boards and Corporations. But the government has not been showing any interest to accede to our requests. Why should we go on imploring the government to get something which we are entitled for? We have decided not to accept this humiliation and will decide on our next political move in the days to come”.
The religious leaders of the community are also aware of the latest move by the Christian leaders and are of the opinion that it is time the Congress realizes it cannot take our support blindly. Bishop of Gulbarga Dr Robert Michael Miranda believes that for long the Congress has been treating our community merely as vote bank, to be remembered only during elections. He opines that Christians should make an appeal to the Congress to reconsider their decision after identifying suitable candidates to fight the elections. “If the Congress does not relent to the appeal then the community has every right to rethink its support for the Congress”, Bishop Robert Miranda asserted.
Bishop of Belgaum Peter Antony Machado asserts that as a religious head he has always advised people to vote for candidate who has integrity, value and secular credentials irrespective of the party he belongs to. As for Congress he says “it is not just the issue of not giving tickets for the forthcoming elections and humiliating us. When it comes to Christian Dalits the government has failed to accord the facilities provided to other Dalits thus depriving Dalit Christians the facilities. It is time the Congress comes clear on these issues”. At the same time he cautions that any further step should be taken by due consultations and not create any confusion among people.
It is true that Christian leaders have given in plentiful representations to the government asking for appointing Christians as heads of some of the important bodies. Except for including one minister in the state cabinet Christians are sidelined in every aspect of administration. Even its representation to consider Presidentship of the State Minority Commission on rotation basis, has fallen on deaf ears of the government. State Secretary IFKCA Michael Baptist argues that “the Congress exploited the community and it is time we reconsider our decision. We have seen the world around and are aware of the developments around us. We believe no party is untouchable in the changing political equations in the country. Unless the Congress changes its attitude we have no other option but to explore other possibilities”.
Possibilities are aplenty for the Christian community which is quite upset and contrite having supported the Congress all these years and for getting nothing despite beseeching it with representations and delegations of leaders. All it has been doing is only giving assurances and forgetting them then and there. Therefore now the community is keeping its options open. The Congress may argue that Sangliana had lost from Bangalore Central against P C Mohan and Margaret Alva had lost from North Kanara against Hindutva poster boy Anant Kumar Hegde in 2009 elections. That should not be the reason for the Congress not to give them tickets because the Congress is expected to win just about 100 seats according to opinion polls in the 2014 general elections, which means the failure ratio is quite high.
State Congress President Dr Parameshwara has defended the Congress action arguing that Christian leaders like Oscar Fernandes has been made a Rajya Sabha MP and Margaret Alva has been appointed as the Governor. It is indeed comical for Dr Parameshwara to take credit for their appointment. One may even ask whether their respective positions were in lieu of them giving up the claim to fight Lok Sabha elections.
Ronald Colaco asserts that in the present situation the only option left for the Congress is to make genuine assurances to the community and give representation in the form of Rajya Sabha or MLC seats and by appointing them to some of the Boards or Corporations so that fair representation is given to all communities in the government. “This is the only way left for the Congress to prevent Christians from taking any drastic steps at the crucial juncture when the general elections are scheduled”, he states.
The Christian community has woken up to the reality and its move will put the Congress on the defensive at a time when it cannot afford to lose the support of the community. It all depends on what move the community is going to make in the coming days. Whether the Congress will be able to pacify them once again by giving assurances and succeed in getting their votes, remains to be seen.