New Delhi – Christian leaders all over India are all praise for the great heroism and sacrifice shown in Sonia Gandhi’s surprise decision to refuse the Prime Minister position, declaring her move not to accept the glory as a “very Christian–like” decision, as the trappings of power did not attract her. “Instead, her spirit of service was displayed with clarity through her renunciation,” said one leader, requesting to remain anonymous. “Given the diversity of Indian ethos, her decision to step aside from the limelight is a wise one,” he said.
Though her decision has stumped her political opponents who were baying for her blood if she accepted the post of a Prime Minister, yet, many political analysts think that as President of the Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi will yield much more power, being respected even by her most vehement political opponents.
Father Anthony Charangat, Editor of the Mumbai Archdiocesan Newsweekly ‘The Examiner’, lauded Sonia’s disinterest in power and prestige, which caused her as the Italian–born leader of the victorious Congress Party to refuse the Prime Minister position. A keen political analyst, the editor priest has closely observed Sonia’s political career, as she almost single–handedly led the Congress party’s campaign, addressing 54 rallies and holding road–shows across the country addressing issues of fundamentalism, drought and unemployment. “She shrewdly forged pre–poll alliances, evidence of her astute leadership. Even her allies acknowledged her greatness and the magnitude of her service,” Fr. Charangat commented. “Yet Sonia is fully aware that extremism and intolerance in the country could result in violence and death. She did not wish to repeat history and wanted to avoid another tragedy in the family,” he said.
It may be noted that Mrs Gandhi’s decision did come as a surprise not only for her political opponents but also for her supporters. A Roman–Catholic, she caused disappointment when she announced that her "inner voice" had dissuaded her from standing for Prime Minister of the world's largest democracy and pleaded everyone to respect “the strength of (her) conviction”. In fact, her supporters have reacted more dramatically to her decision to refuse as Prime Minister, which was made and a decision that she “will not revert” from, than her political opponents. Protesting this move, huge number of followers gathered outside her residence, chanting and holding signs. While one slashed his chest with a sword and cursed the outgoing BJP government who has always been raising Sonia’s ‘foreign issue’, another Congress party worker wrote a request that she reconsider, using his own blood for ink. Yet, another waved a gun, threatening to kill himself because of Gandhi’s decision. He was, however, removed from the spot by the police.
A Roman Catholic born in Italy, Mrs Gandhi (57) became a naturalized Indian citizen in 1963. Her late husband, Rajiv, was Prime Minister from 1984 to 1989, her mother–in–law, Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister from 1968 to 1984, and her husband’s grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, led the country for 17 years following independence in 1948.
Electoral analysts credit the Congress Party upset victory to weariness with the BJP’s Hindu Nationalist agenda and economic frustrations. While India’s economy grew almost eight percent last year, the benefits of economic liberalisation over the past decade have been uneven with the vast majority of the rural poor untouched by the rising prosperity.
Opposition to the BJP brought together an unlikely alliance of Muslims and Christians with Communists and other left–wing secular parties opposed to the BJP’s militant Hindu agenda and free–market economic reforms. One plank of the BJP’s electoral platform called for the passage of a national anti–conversion law that would ban conversions from Hinduism to Christianity.
Sherly Isaac, editor of the Church of South India publication Good News, stated that the eight years of BJP rule had been harsh especially for rural Christians as Hindu militants sought to eradicate the Church. “Many Christians were killed and many were burnt alive.
Many of them were stripped naked and made to walk on the streets and were beaten up severely. Many were told that either they should renounce their religion and join Hinduism or face death. Many Churches were demolished, burnt down or were converted to Hindu temples,” the editor recounted.
Archbishop Vincent Concessao of the Archdiocese of Delhi, speaking on behalf of Catholic Bishops Conference of India, the Evangelical Fellowship of India, and the National Council of Churches of India noted “with a little regret [the Vajpayee’s government’s] deafening silence towards those fundamentalists who were spreading hatred against the minorities” and welcomed the election of the Congress government whose “mandate by the people of India is to strengthen the secular traditions for which India is known the world over”.
The Congress’ new choice for Prime Minister is now 71–year–old Manmohan Singh, a political veteran and economic reformer who tasted massive success in the early 1990’s as the former financial minister, saving the country from near economic collapse. Many believe Singh will be an excellent choice to balance demands between the communists and reform policies that benefit businesses.
Though India has had one Sikh president – Zail Singh – and three Muslims – Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, Zakir Hussain and A.P.J. Abdul Kalam – have occupied the nation's top post, yet, this is the first time that a member of the minority community will be heading the government. All previous prime ministers have been Hindus, the country's majority community. Sikhs are the fourth largest religious group in India accounting for about two percent of the multi–religious, multi–ethnic population of one billion. However, despite its small size, smaller than even the Christian community (2.3 percent), the Sikh community has played a pioneering role in fields as diverse as defence, business and sports.
Sonia’s sacrifice is very Christian–like, says Christian Leaders
Published 21 May 2004 | Jacob Chaterjee