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Delhi archbishop: Indian election result ‘a vote for change’

Indian prelates, including Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay (centre), conduct a candelight protest against recent attacks on Catholic churches (CNS)

The Archbishop of Delhi has said the Indian government failed to deliver on its promises following the victory of an anti-corruption party in the state elections.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Archbishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto claimed the election had been marred by anti-Catholic violence after churches were vandalised and a peaceful protest was broken up by heavy-handed police.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which translates as “the common man”, won 67 of the 70 assembly seats in the Delhi state elections on Tuesday. Its leader, Arvind Kejriwal, will be the new chief minister of Delhi. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the party of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was left with just three seats.

Archbishop Couto said: “The result is a vote for change. Even after eight months, the Modi government has failed to act well, nor has it fulfilled its promises.

“The people of Delhi are disappointed and that’s why they wanted to give Arvind Kejriwal a chance as the new chief minister.”

Since December, five different churches in the Indian capital territory have been vandalised. Last week, the Church of St Alphonsa was broken into and sacred hosts were scattered on the altar and the floor.

A peaceful protest against the attacks on churches was broken up by police last week. AsiaNews reported that Delhi police beat and detained dozens of priests, nuns and laypeople, including women and children, during the silent march outside the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.

Archbishop Couto said: “These elections were negatively affected by the attacks on churches.

“Five attacks on five different churches and the BJP, which was in power, stood by in silence.

“What’s worse, it said that what happened was normal, that in many other places similar incidents were happening.”

The result constitutes a major setback to the BJP and Mr Modi, who has enjoyed widespread public support since winning the 2014 general election.

Archbishop Couto said: “The people of Delhi voted against the BJP and its attempt to polarise the voters in the name of religion.

“The result of these elections is a message to the Prime Minister: he should think seriously about his behaviour.”

In a separate incident, India’s Catholic bishops protested last week against a government decision to deny visas to two Vatican officials.

Archbishop Arthur Roche, former Bishop of Leeds and now secretary at the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and Archbishop Portase Rugambwa, president of the Pontifical Mission Societies, were due to address a conference of Catholic bishops in Bangalore on the subject of “Life and Liturgy” but had to cancel their trip at the last minute.