By Robin Gomes
India’s Catholic bishops have condemned a malicious fake letter making the rounds on the social media, that is designed to defame the Catholic Church and arouse communal tension for political gain in the run-up to the crucial assembly election on Saturday in the southern state of Karnataka.
The fake letter claims that Indian Church officials in collusion with representatives of the Holy See in New Delhi, support demands made by Karnataka’s Lingayat community to be recognized as a separate minority religion in order to convert them.
False allegation of converting Lingayats
In an official clarification dated May 9, Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, the Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) wrote, “The purportedly fake letter falsely attributed to Cardinal Oswald Gracias and as having been written by him to Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore,” making “wild allegations about Church involvement in the Lingayat issue.”
The March 28 fake letter claims that on December 21, 2013 officials of the Apostolic Nunciature (Vatican embassy) in New Delhi held their first meeting with Karnataka’s ruling political leadership to convince them to grant Lingayats a minority religion status. The mail alleges that since then, subsequent meetings have taken place with the state government to convince them on the issue.
The fake mail with a slew of language errors and wrong designations to persons, also suggests nine strategic steps on how to go about what it called “harvest of souls”, or converting Lingayats to Catholicism and setting Lingayats against Hindus. It claims much of this could be largely achieved through the European Union’s developmental schemes and funds channeled through the “Embassy of the Holy See”.
Bishop Mascarenhas said that neither the CBCI nor Cardinal Gracias will “ever indulge in divisive tactics” as indicated in the false letter. “The circulation of this letter just before the Karnataka elections is a disgraceful mischievous ploy,” he said, adding the CBCI “reserved the right to take legal action against those involved in making and promoting the letter.”
Bishop Mascarenhas has been battling against those peddling the fake letter as genuine, especially on the social media. "Absolutely malafide malicious and diabolic. So sad that people can stoop to this level to malign others," he wrote in one of his posts on the Indian bishops' Twitter account.
The Lingayats who make up 17% of Karnataka’s population have an influence on nearly 100 seats in the 224-member state assembly where the Congress party is in power. The community is seen as a trump card in the May 12 election in which the Congress is pitched against the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in power in the centre.
The Lingayats traditionally support the BJP, especially in northern Karnataka. Christians, who form 1.8 percent or 1.1 million in the state's population, are traditionally seen as Congress supporters.
On March 19, the Karnataka government approved a minority religion status to the Lingayat community, a move largely seen as a bid by to woo the community to the Congress party, as well as split BJP’s Lingayat vote base. A Congress victory in Saturday’s election will go a long way to its chances in the general election in 2019.