Questions have been raised over the election date in Goa as it comes just two days after Easter Sunday and four days after Good Friday.
These are the most holy of all days in the Catholic calendar, and are preceded by Maundy Thursday, another solemn occasion. With India going for polling in seven phases, beginning on April 11 and ending on May 19, could the election date for Goa have been selected with a little more application of mind?
The thick of the election campaign will coincide with Good Friday, a day of fast and abstinence for Catholics, a day that the faithful spend in prayer and in Church. There are many rites that are associated with Good Friday, with the main service beginning at around 3pm and going on till past 7pm where it ends with a procession that vends its way through the streets of the parish and is followed by a sermon, usually outside the Church. The Good Friday rites cannot be dropped or even abridged. The day prior, Maundy Thursday is also a somber day in the Catholic calendar, and Churches remain open till midnight, as the faithful visit the Blessed Sacrament.
If that is on Good Friday, the poll campaign would also disrupt the celebrations that follow on Sunday, especially as the Easter vigil is held on Saturday night with a candle-light procession that begins outside the church and then enter inside the church, where the service continues for over 90 minutes or longer. With the code of conduct in place, such night time celebrations of religious rituals and the festivities after that will be affected. Besides, with campaigning coming to an end on Sunday at 5 pm, Easter celebrations will be dampened and the new season of the tiatr that begins annually on Easter Sunday could also get affected. Easter Sunday also marks the beginning of the wedding season for Catholics, and there would be a number of them happening on this day itself and the days following.
How then are candidates expected to campaign on Good Friday and Easter Sunday? Picture this: a penitential procession of the crucified Jesus being solemnly taken through the streets, when it comes across a loud political party rally. Doesn’t this jar the senses quite a bit? Goan Catholics have been observing these Holy Week rites for centuries, so it is not possible that the government officials who were consulted by the Election Commission of India in selecting the dates for the poll were not aware of these. The date could easily have been set so that the campaign would not coincide with the Holy Week observances.
It is not just in Goa that the poll dates have not sparked reactions, but in other States, especially Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, there have been questions raised over the fact that they clash with the month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast. The month starts later during the poll process, and does not coincide with the date for Goa. There were even allegations made that the schedule was so arranged to make it difficult for the Muslim community to vote. Leaders from various parties did seek that the dates be reconsidered by the Election Commission of India. However, the ECI responded saying it had excluded the main festival dates and Fridays from the polling dates, and that the entire month cannot be excluded.
All that was expected here was a little sensitivity towards the Christian community that forms a sizeable percentage in Goa. Holy Week that begins on Palm Sunday and ends on Easter Sunday is called ‘Holy’ for a reason. The Catholics in Goa would like to keep it as Holy as possible this year too. The Election Commission should have considered this when scheduling the polls.