Christians below political radar: Council â€˜Contribution overlookedâ€™ SUSHOVAN SIRCAR Calcutta, Feb. 2: Christians in India have not been included in the mainstream political discourse despite substantial contributions to society and sustained efforts in nation-building, a national council of Protestant churches said today. â€œSome people still think we are not Indiansâ€¦. Christians are not present in the political discourse of mainstream parties today. Despite helping give the country some of the finest schools, colleges and hospitals, our efforts in nation-building and contributions towards society have been overlooked,â€ said Bishop Taranath S. Sagar, president of the National Council of Churches in India. Kicking off its year-long centenary celebrations from Calcutta on Sunday, the council also referred to the Bengal governmentâ€™s decision to provide doles to Muslim clerics. â€œIf the government is handing honorariums to Muslim clerics, I would request the chief minister to also extend the honorariums to Christians as well. This act (giving doles to one particular community) is simply pleasing a section of society for votes,â€ Bishop Sagar said in response to a question after a news conference at Calcutta Boysâ€™ School in the afternoon. The Mamata Banerjee government gives an honorarium of Rs 2,500 a month to imams and Rs 1,000 a month to muezzins in Bengal. The council is an ecumenical body of 30 Protestant and Orthodox churches across India and a slew of Christian councils and organisations. It is the second largest body of churches in the country and includes the Church of North India and Church of South India as member churches. Nearly 50 per cent, about 12 million of the total Christian population of 25 million in India, are Protestants. Calcutta was chosen as the first stop in a series of countrywide celebrations because on February 2, 1914, it was at the YWCA (Young Womenâ€™s Christian Association) building on S.N. Banerjee Road that the body held its first meeting and formed a council. The celebrations will move to Aizawl, Hyderabad and Mumbai among other cities in the coming months and culminate at the headquarters in Nagpur in November. As the centenary year coincides with the Lok Sabha polls, the council articulated its concerns. The existing political establishment, it felt, had failed to acknowledge or address the needs and aspirations of the Christian community and largely overlooked its contributions to the nation. The YWCA (Young Womenâ€™s Christian Association) building at Corporation Place (now SN Banerjee Road) in Calcutta played host to church leaders and missionaries from across the country on February 2, 1914, where they held their first meeting and formed a council. On Sunday, the National Council of Churches in India chose Calcutta as the first stop to kick off their countrywide centenary celebrations, which will culminate in November at their headquarters in Nagpur. Bishop Taranath S Sagar (third from left), the president of the National Council of Churches in India, at the media conference at Calcutta Boysâ€™ School on Sunday. The council lamented that the term â€œminorityâ€ had become synonymous with just one community, overshadowing the others. â€œIf we look historically, Christians are the true minoritiesâ€¦ but today (the word) â€˜minorityâ€™ has become attached with just one community. There is no Protestant representation in Parliament from West Bengal,â€ said Suman J. Biswas, vice-president of the council. Accusing politicians of consistently using religion for political gains, the council rued how issues like poverty had remained sidelined and religious minorities had rarely been acknowledged as anything but a vote bank. Speaking on the communityâ€™s preferences for the upcoming elections, the Bishop said in response to a question that Christians were â€œhighly dividedâ€ in their opinion on Narendra Modi. â€œModi played the development card in Gujarat and is playing the same card nationally now. But even if he becomes the Prime Minister and acts secular, he might face pressure from the lower cadres of the party. We are highly divided in our opinion of Modi and I cannot make one general statement on behalf of the Christians. Christians have traditionally been followers of the Congressâ€¦ but it might be time for some change,â€ Bishop Sagar said. He added that the council did not â€œendorse any particular partyâ€. â€œWe need a leader who is strong and understands the needs of the minorities and works for grass-roots development,â€ the Bishop said. The theme of the celebrations â€œtowards integral mission and grassroots ecumenismâ€ was explained as one that was aimed at motivating people to go back to the grassroots of the society and work towards its development. â€œIn recent times, the development of the country has only been measured by political parties in terms of bridges, high-rises and metro rails. Grassroots development of the marginalised has remained neglected and that is why growth has not been uniform,â€ said Reverend Sunil Raj Philip, the executive secretary of the council. The news conference was followed by a worship service at St. Paulâ€™s Cathedral in the evening. Christians below political radar: Council ********************************************** There is no doubt that the Christian bodies have played a stellar role in the education field with their schools and colleges, and even in the Medical field with their hospitals. Bishop Taranath S. Sagar, president of the National Council of Churches in India, claims that Christians are taken to be foreigners. I wonder how he came to the conclusion. Neither Sagar (photo below) or Rev John Dayal would ever look like a foreigner. I wonder if one can differentiate between a Christian, or anyone who wears western clothes or even the local clothes. In fact, such a thought by Sagar is most ludicrous, since they look as desi as desi can be. If one reads through the grievances of Bishop Taranath S. Sagar, president of the National Council of Churches in India, it will be clear that he is trying to making capital of the real poison that has impregnated India - the politics of competitive religiosity for milking sops from the Govt. Indeed, there are some issue that are valid to some extent. True, that when the issue of 'minority' is raised, it is clear that it is for one religion. The fault is that of the politicians who do so for votes, but it is not the fault of the adherents of that religion or the Constitution. True, that Mamata Bannerjee has opened up a can of worms by giving stipend to Muslim clerics and ignoring other minority religious leaders and the impoverished majority priests. This the typical political oneupmanship that gets votes that is ruining, not only Bengal, but the whole country and only dividing the people. To imagine that this type of 'politics' has caused an educated person like the Bishop to openly grouse. Suman J. Biswas, vice-president of the council. is wrong when he states "If we look historically, Christians are the true minoritiesâ€¦ but today (the word) â€˜minorityâ€™ has become attached with just one community. There is no Protestant representation in Parliament from West Bengal,â€ During the British Raj, even though the Christians were a minority, yet their writ ran! In so far as there being a Protestant representation in the Parliament, I wonder if any seat is reserved based on religion. However, there is a reserved seat in the Rajya Sabha, for Anglo Indians being a real minority, and that person can be from any of the denominations of the Christian faith. But it is a truism, that in India, currently, it appears that the Catholics are holding the majority of the Christian representation in Parliament. It is no fault that the constituency has not voted in a Protestant because no Protestant has been fielded by the political parties! The Bishop has in a tongue in cheek way seems to be endorsing Modi, or he has read the tea leaves and so giving subtle reminder to Modi not to forget the Christian community, and more so, the Protestants!