New Delhi, March 19, 2007: Delhi Archbishop Vincent Concessao has called upon Congress president Sonia Gandhi to cleanse her party of communal elements, if that is what is required to restore the confidence of India`s minorities in the century-old political party that led the country to freedom from foreign rule.
The Archbishop`s direct appeal to Gandhi, who is chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance now running the Central government in New Delhi, came in a television interview with Journalist Karan Thapar telecast on CNN-IBN on 12th March 2007.
The full typescript of the interview was made available today. The interview was in the backdrop of the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill 2006, which was passed into law after the governor signed it last month. The Congress Party rules the State of Himachal Pradesh in the foothills of the Himalayas. The Congress recently lost the neighboring state of Uttarakhand to the right wing Hindutva group of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Karan Thapar interviewed Archbishop Vincent Concessao, Maharashtra State Minorities Commission vice chairman Abraham Mathai and former Mumbai High Court judge and now Congress Member of Parliament Mr. Justice Vijay Bahuguna.
In reply to a direct question, the Archbishop said the community would like to appeal to Mrs. Sonia Gandhi to ensure that every citizen in India, particularly the minorities, feels secure. "If the party needs to be cleansed of communal elements, it must be done for the sake of the country, democracy and secularism," the Archbishop said.
Justice Bahuguna said the decision of the Congress government in Himachal to bring forth such legislation had not only surprised party men, "but it also shocks the conscience of ordinary Congress men." He said the party should not be judged by this one act but on its ideological commitment to secularism. Asked if he would press for the repeal of the Himachal Bill, Justice Bahuguna said he would raise the matter in the All India Congress Committee of which he was a member. "There is distinction between religion and politics. Everyone has freedom to propagate his religion. I can certainly assure that there will not be any complaint in Himachal that Congress government is suppressing Christians in the state it."
The bill could only be repealed by the state legislature, which had adopted, Justice Bahuguna said.
Karan Thapar quoted extensively from the 2007 edition of the Unofficial White Paper on Violence Against the Indian Christian Community, published annually by Dr John Dayal since 1997. The White Paper showed 119 attacks in last year , 36% of them happened in Congress rule states. Andhra is the state with highest number of attacks, 21, even more than Madhya Pradesh.
Asked by Thapar that some Christians in Mumbai, Hyderabad, and other parts of the country had reportedly begun to ask they should be included in the Prevention of Atrocities Acts which normally applies to Dalits and Tribals, Archbishop Concessao said "Considering the attacks, it will be good for them ... so that feel more secured." The Archbishop pointed out that in the country there has been not even one proven case of conversion by force or fraudulent. "What was the need of the Bill?" he asked Asked if the Congress is pandering to get Hindu votes to attract people and to win elections, the Archbishop said he would not be able to judge their motives. "But this much is very clear that earlier they [the Congress party] fought against such Bills. But we also know that Congress leaders are very secular but it looks like there elements which are communal."
The Archbishop wrote to Sonia Gandhi in January this year saying that Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill "is certainly last thing that the citizens, particularly minority, expecting from Congress Party?" Mr. Mathai and Mr. Sam Paul, both of the All India Christian Council, also sent similar letters to Mrs. Gandhi.
Karan Thapar and Abraham Mathai quoted Mrs. Sonia Gandhi`s view expressed in her letter to John Dayal on July 27, 2006 on similar bills passed in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan by BJP Governments. Sonia Gandhi wrote back to Dr Dayal saying, "The Congress Party has opposed this strongly in (concerned) Assemblies and through demonstrations."
The Archbishop said he was surprised that the Congress which was in power in Madhya Pradesh earlier had not repealed an earlier ;legislation enacted by a non-Congress coalition government.
Mr. Thapar said the entire blame for the Act, which demonized the Christian community by creating a false image about conversions, rested with Chief Minister Virbahadur Singh. Efforts to move similar Bills in Maharashtra had been rejected by the Congress-NCP government in Mumbai, he pointed out.