MUMBAI, India – There are “reasons for grave concern” in India, according to Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore.

He was writing ahead of the Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace and Harmony in our Country the bishops of India are hosting on March 22.

The prayers are also in anticipation of the general elections for the lower house in India, which will be held between April 19 and June 1.

The Congress party, India’s main opposition political group, is facing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu-nationalist party that has ruled the country since 2014.

The Congress party has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of “crippling” the party by freezing its bank accounts ahead of the general election.

Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi on Thursday said that last week, the party received another notice from the tax authorities that dates back to our filings from 1995-96.

“This is a criminal action on the Congress party done by the prime minister and the home minister. The idea that India is a democracy is a lie. There is no democracy in India today,” Gandhi said.

In his statement, Machado writes, “We are living in very difficult times.”

“Despite the tremendous advances in the scientific, technological, economic and other fields, which have made the Country to be acknowledged as an emerging economic power in the world, there are reasons for grave concern,” the archbishop says.

“The increasing impoverishment of the masses, the growing monopoly of crony capitalists, the widening gap between the rich and the poor,  the worsening unemployment among the educated youth, the large scale migration of the unemployed rural poor, the unhindered multiplication of hate speeches, the systematic attempts at depriving millions of our fellow Indians of their citizenship rights, the subtle violation of fundamental rights, the systematic erosion of the pluralistic, secular ethos which has long characterised our Country and our Constitution, the unscrupulous dilution of Minority Rights, the frequent bulldozing of homes, shops and the places of worship of the minorities on flimsy accusations, the deliberate harassment of those serving in orphanages, hostels, educational and health care institutions on false allegations of forcible conversion, have all become an integral part of the carefully crafted campaign by divisive forces to undermine the Constitution, intimidate the minorities and to disempower the masses,” Machado explains.

He claims India’s politics is subjected to the “hydra-headed curse of populism, polarization, post truth and personality cult.”

“Constitutional authorities are, at best, mere figureheads, and, at worst, willing puppets. Democracy is reduced to an empty shell,” he adds.

Since the BJP took power, India’s minority faiths have accused the government of increased oppression against non-Hindu faiths.

The India census says India’s population is 79.8 percent Hindu, 14.2 percent Muslim, and 2.3 percent Christian.

Machado also serves as the President of the Karnataka Regional Bishops’ Conference and the Chairman of the All-Karnataka United Christian Forum for Human Rights.

In his statement, the archbishop says prayer and fasting is the most powerful and effective means to pursue the path of truth, non-violence, healing, justice and reconciliation “in courageously combating the forces of falsehood, violence, destruction, conflict and division.”

Archbishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto of Delhi, the Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), wrote on March 14 that the Church is exhorting  parishioners “to unite in prayer for a continuous period of 12 hours to intercede for our nation especially the forthcoming general elections this year.”

With such prayers, “we align our hearts with the will of God and offer our supplications for the purification of the Church and the well-being of our nation,” Couto says.

“There is an unprecedented religious polarization which is harming the cherished social harmony in our country and endangering democracy itself,” his statement reads.

“There is an apprehension that divisive attitudes, hate speeches, and fundamentalist movements are eroding the pluralistic ethos which has always characterized our country and its constitution. The fundamental rights and minority rights guaranteed by the constitution should never be undermined,” Couto says.

Machado told Crux the bishops are appealing to the people in the Lenten season “to pray and fast for the cause of peace and harmony in the Indian society especially as we go for the general elections.”

“As we know, the elections are hotly contested, with different political parties, different groups different manifestos, et cetera … we ask the people to remain calm and vigilant so that they can exercise their vote in a judicious manner,” the archbishop said.

“We particularly speak about elections, urging our people to exercise their duty and cast their votes,” he continued.

“It is the duty of every citizen to vote, and it is essential that they should choose their leaders and candidates wisely – candidates who are eminent people of values, secular minded and respect the Constitution,” Machado said.