Keeping the faith

May 03, 2012, 07:25 IST | Hemal Ashar

Community activist group pushes for Christian President

As who should be the next President parleys heat up, and current President Pratibha Patil readies to end her term in July this year, the hot button topic is religion. A number of candidates names are being bandied. The larger picture shows shows that there is a change in the political landscape. In the years past, religion of the President did not give rise to so much animated debate. Now, Mumbai’s Christian Catholic Secular Forum (CSF), an activist community organization with its headquarters in Vakola (Santacruz E) has jumped on to the bandwagon urging the community to push for a Christian President or Vice-President. In an email message sent by CSF’s Joseph Dias to the community, CSF says, “Indian Christians are about to lose yet another opportunity to have a Christian as, if not President, at least the next Vice-President of the country. This will not happen if the Church, bishops, clergy and community take it upon themselves to at least sign a petition.”

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The Archbishop of Bombay, Cardinal Oswald Gracias though did not answer calls for comment on the issue. Dias denies that pushing for a Christian president means communalisng the issue. “Everybody is lobbying for something or the other,” said Dias adding, “When people spoke about India’s first Dalit President, that did not mean they were communalising the post.” In fact, when current President Pratibha Patil too, became the President, there was a buzz about her becoming India’s first woman president, but that does not mean the issue became gender-specific.”

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Dias has made an online petition for signatures supporting the campaign for a Christian president. The introduction to the petition urging people to sign says: If we do not have at least a vice-president this time, we will not have it in the future, given the political signs of time. This is therefore a very special request to sign the below petition by clicking on the link below: Dias says, “We have had nearly 500 signatures in two days which is a good number. Remember though that as a micro-minority, figures are not so important to us. It is the sentiment behind the signing that is valuable. We are going to forward the signed petition and memorandum to Sonia Gandhi and leaders of the opposition.”

Dias added that it is difficult to believe that there has been no suitable Christian candidate for 70 years. “We think it is important the community gets a representation in constitutional posts, it is to foster a feeling of oneness and to make the community feel a part of the national fabric.” The CSF honcho also uses terms like the community feels, “isolated and alienated, and there is a feeling of disenchantment” when talking about the community but cannot spell out what exactly he means by that. Asked if this attitude spawns a culture of victimization, Dias denied that it did and said he had gleaned this in everyday interaction with the people. Dias also denied being a spokesperson for the community saying, “I am involved in daily work on various issues.”

CSF says these are points to ponder
1 For almost 70 years, India has not had Christians represented.
2 There are many Christians, who are equally or better qualified, but ignored.
3 The service of the community has not been recognized with constitutional positions.
4 Christians feel neglected and taken for granted and hence request at least the VP’s post.

How the President of India is elected
The President of India is chosen by an electoral college, which constitutes the elected members of the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha and the legislative assemblies of all states, including Delhi and the Union territory of Puducherry. The election is held by secret ballot.

The nomination of a candidate for election to the office of the President must be subscribed by at least 50 electors as proposers and 50 electors as seconders.

Value of votes
The Constitution uses a formula to determine the value of a vote.

When would the vote be held?
The formal electoral process to elect India's next President will commence on June 16, with the issue of the notification.

The tentative date proposed for the President's election is July 19, so as to complete the entire process, including the counting of votes, by July 21, four days ahead before incumbent Pratibha Patil completes her term as India's President.

The tentative calendar drawn up by the Election Commission contemplates that it will issue the notification for the election on June 16, while the last date for filing nominations will be on Saturday, June 30.

A total of 4,896 elected members of Parliament and Legislative Assemblies will vote in the 13th presidential poll on July 19.  

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