News Analysis

An election, an archbishop, and a tale of modern India

Archbishop Cornelio

Political interference is suspected after hundreds of Christians, including a Catholic archbishop, were denied their right to vote in Indian state elections despite apparently having all the relevant papers.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal was among those turned away from polling booths in the central state of Madhya Pradesh because their names were not on the voter list. He said he thought it likely that his name had been “deliberately deleted”, which he described as “unjust and not a good sign for the democracy”.

Christian leaders claimed there had been foul play by right-wing Hindu groups, saying those turned away had election identity cards and other valid documents. A petition is circulating, asking election authorities to investigate.

Christians suspect the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Hindu nationalist group that has ruled the state for 15 years and the nation since 2014, had manipulated officials into denying them the vote. India’s Christians are traditionally considered supporters of the BJP’s rival, the Congress Party, which has a secular ideology.

“This is a stern message to the Christian community that they are no more in the reckoning,” Archbishop Cornelio said. “The message is subtly conveyed through deletion of names of senior community leaders.” Indira Iyengar, a Christian and ex-member of the Madhya Pradesh state minorities commission, said there had been a BJP-supported cloak and dagger campaign against the Congress Party. She said she was also denied the right to vote.

Of the state’s 73 million people, about 213,000 are Christian. About 91 per cent are Hindus, and 7 per cent are Muslim, according to the most recent census.

In May Archbishop Anil Joseph Couto of New Delhi urged people to pray for India’s democracy, saying it was being threatened by a “turbulent political
atmosphere”.