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Indian churches delighted at victory of ‘secular’ coalition

Bangalore, India, 18 May (ENI)

Churches and Christian groups in India have hailed as a victory for secular governance and a non-sectarian society the convincing victory of the ruling coalition that did much better than pre-election polls had suggested.

The United Progressive Alliance coalition government led by the secular Indian National Congress party won 262 of the 543 seats in India’s parliament, although the most optimistic poll forecasts had estimated only 215 seats for the ruling alliance.

"The vibrant and responsible electorate of the Indian democracy have reaffirmed their faith in the UPA in a historic manner," said the National Council of Churches of India on 18 May. "It is … an expression of the wish of the people that India is a secular and democratic country," said the NCCI, which groups 30 Orthodox and Protestant churches.

The church council noted the election to choose India’s 15th parliament had taken place "in the context of blistering heat and divisive politics", seen as a reference to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which has been accused by opponents of having a Hindu nationalist agenda.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India in a press statement after the election that ended on 13 May said, "The Indian voters have made a right choice in placing their faith in the UPA to lead the country for the next five years."

The UPA quickly announced that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will continue to head the new government in which the coalition is still 11 seats clear of an overall majority.

"This is great victory for secularism. The Indian people have given a clear verdict," the Rev Vincent Rajkumar, director of the Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society told Ecumenical News International. "The Indian voters have shown that they do not want people to be divided on the basis of religion."

Ahead of the elections, the Christian institute along with the council of churches had prepared guidelines circulated among churches urging people to vote for "secular" parties.

"The Indian voters have rejected divisive politics and have thrown out the ideology they do not want," Catholic Archbishop Vincent Concessao of New Delhi told ENI.

The ecumenical All India Christian Council in a statement "saluted the people of India for the consummate and decisive manner in which they have rejected divisive, communal and sectarian political forces". The churches in their statement also hailed the conduct of the massive Indian election in which four million poll officials supervised the casting of more than 450 million votes.

While the UPA swept to victory in cities such as New Delhi and Mumbai, the ruling coalition also posted big gains in BJP-ruled states as well as Communist Party bastions such as Kerala and the West Bengal states.

(c) Ecumenical News International