Churches in India have hailed the defeat of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at a general election in the world's largest democracy.

Results showed that millions of India's poor rural people forsook Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Hindus-first message despite an economic boom and moved their support to the secularism of the India National Congress party, led by Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Vajpayee conceded defeat on yesterday after campaigning on the slogan "India Shining." The party miscalculated support for its campaign, hoping to capitalize on the country's eight percent growth rate on the back of booming high-tech industries and rapid development.

Joseph D'Souza, President of the All India Christian Council, told the German evangelical news agency Idea, "In a surprise spontaneous move of public anger, the masses, the downtrodden, the poor, the Dalits and even the urban unemployed all joined together to throw out the BJP led alliance."

"This is a mandate to renew secular democracy in India," said the Rev. Ipe Joseph, general secretary of National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), a grouping of 29 Orthodox and Protestant Churches in India. Joseph told Ecumenical News International, "By ejecting the NDA government out of power, most of the voters have shown that they reject the [Hindu] fundamentalism."

The opposition Congress party looked set to win enough seats to secure a coalition government along with smaller parties including the Communists, who had assured their support for a stable and secular government.

The Rev. Donald De Souza, spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), ...

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