Church in India Worried About BJP's Political Victory

Bishop of Raigarh Expects Tough Times Ahead

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NEW DELHI, India, DEC. 12, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The recent electoral victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party augurs "hard times" for the Christian community in India, says Bishop Victor Kindo of Raigarh.



The results of the Dec. 1 elections in four Indian states proclaimed the BJP, known to favor Hindu fundamentalism, as the victor in three of them: Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh (where Raigarh is). The Congress Party, which was victorious in Delhi, had controlled the government in the four states.

"The situation is not favorable," Bishop Kindo told AsiaNews this week. He said the Christian minority community in Chattisgarh is likely to face "tough times." Raman Singh, president of the BJP in Chattisgarh, was sworn in as the state's Chief Minister on Sunday.

The BJP won 50 seats in the 90-member Chattisgarh state assembly, while the ruling Congress Party had to content itself with a mere 37 seats in a state where 35% of 20 million people are central Indian tribal members.

"This is not a happy situation," Bishop Kindo said. "Considering the campaign they [Hindu groups and BJP] have carried out, while targeting us during the campaign, we are heading for tough times."

There are 240,000 Catholics living in the Diocese of Raigarh. They account for 50% of the half-million Christians living in Chattisgarh.

In the run-up to the election, the BJP stressed the conversion issue. In its election manifesto, the party announced it will ban conversions to Christianity if voted to power.

During the climax of the election campaign, Hindu groups even placed advertisements in several local newspapers depicting a bishop forcibly converting a tribal member while a henchman stood guard over others encaged and waiting to be baptized by the pope's orders.

Following its publication, Bishop Joseph Augustine Charanakunnel of Raipur, the capital of Chattisgarh, issued a statement condemning the anti-Christian message as "hurting" the sentiments of the Christian community.

In addition to the Catholic Church, the Samajic Samrasta Manch (Social Harmony Forum) of Raipur -- of which Hindu, Sikh and Muslim religious leaders are also members -- criticized the advertisement's anti-Christian message and cautioned against "stimulating the Chattisgarh people's religious sentiments."