The Indian coastal state of Goa has elected the highest number of Catholic lawmakers since state polls were first held in 1963.
When poll results were declared March 11, out of 40 elected representatives, 17 are Catholics, giving them a 43 percent representation in a state where Christians form only 22 percent of the population. Almost all Christians in Goa are Catholics.
The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won only 13 out of 40 seats but their rival Congress party also failed to garner a majority with only 17 seats. The BJP quickly claimed the support of independent and smaller parties and presented Governor Mridula Sinha with a list of 21 supporters and staked its claim to form a coalition government.
Out of the 13 BJP members elected, seven are Catholics and, for the first time, they outnumber Hindu legislators in a party.
Social commentator Father Victor Ferrao, said "people in their wisdom have rejected the BJP but have stopped short of giving the Congress party the full majority to rule."
Observers like the priest see anti-incumbency at work against the BJP which has ruled the state for the past five years. The BJP's pro-industrial development policies upset large sections of Goa's population because of harm done to the environment.
Aureliano Fernandes, a political observer, said that even if there are seven Catholic legislators in the BJP it does not mean they can influence policy. "There is hardly any internal democracy in the BJP unlike other parties," he said.
Fernandes explained that, within the BJP, hard-line Hindu groups "play a vital role in decision making. Catholics are always considered outsiders and would have a negligible say."
Catholics were elected because the BJP placed winnable candidates strategically understanding factors like caste, religion and the demands of particular areas and the win "should not be seen as the BJP developing a love for Catholics," he added.
Journalist Jamaluddin Sheikh, a Muslim, pointed out that "even if Catholics are elected, they become stooges of the party. So really speaking there's nothing for Christians to cheer about."
The BJP and pro-Hindu groups attached to it have often been accused of discrimination and violence against religious minorities such as Christians and Muslims.
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