Archbishop's letter on 2019 polls creates stir

Archbishop of Delhi Anil Couto

Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto's remarks about "turbulent political atmosphere" and appeal for a prayer campaign ahead of the 2019 general elections has triggered a controversy, with the BJP taking exception to it.

The Opposition parties, however, found nothing wrong with the letter.

The letter by the archbishop to churches in the capital on May 8 surfaced in public domain on Monday, with a section claiming that it was a call to defeat the BJP in the 2019 elections, while the church denied any such allusions.

In the letter, Couto had said, "we are witnessing a turbulent political atmosphere, which poses a threat to the democratic principles enshrined in our Constitution and the secular fabric of our nation."

"It is our hallowed practice to pray for our country and its political leaders all the time, but all the more so when we approach the general elections. As we look forward towards 2019, when we will have a new government, let us begin a prayer campaign for our country from May 13," the letter said.

As a controversy erupted over his comments with the BJP targeting the church, Couto clarified that the letter was not against Prime Minister Narendra Modi or his government.

It was also clarified by the archbishop's office that such prayer campaigns took place before every general election.

When asked to respond on the letter, BJP president Amit Shah said his opinion is that nobody should involve religion in politics.

When asked about the Opposition parties' support for Couto, Shah said, "What else do you expect from them? Mamata Banerjee, N Chandrababu Naidu will all be beneficiaries, so they will support. They will not leave anything which can help them in defeating us."

CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury defended Couto, saying the letter is about preserving the values of secularism and the Constitution, which is "being demolished" under the BJP rule.

Banerjee, the West Bengal chief minister and TMC chief, also supported Couto, saying whatever the religious leader has said, "is a fact".

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad also targeted Couto, describing the letter as a "direct attack by the church on India's secularism".

VHP's international working president Alok Kumar said that it was a direct intervention of the Vatican, the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, and an attempt to divide India on the basis of religion.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh said India does not discriminate against anyone on the basis of religion or sect.

While Union Minister K J Alphons said the remarks were "unfair" to the government and that god-men should stay away from politics. Minorities Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi asked Couto to come out of his "prejudiced" mindset.

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Archbishop's letter on 2019 polls creates stir

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