Christians In Chhattisgarh Fear BJP Returning To Power
RAIPUR, Jharkhand(SAR NEWS) --The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been re-elected to rule Chhattisgarh for the second time. Out of the 90 seats, it won 50 seats against its main rival the Congress with 38 seats and two seats going to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Dr. Raman Singh assumed office as the states chief minister for the second time. After the bifurcation of Chhattisgarh from Madhya Pradesh November 1, 2000, the state was ruled by the Congress party, headed by Ajit Pramod Jogi, a Christian belonging to the Church of North India (CNI). The Congress party then had 48 MLAs and the BJP had only 36.
With an eye on the next election, the IAS officer-turned- politician, Jogi brought enormous development in the new, undeveloped state. But many corruption charges were leveled against him. Since the rebel Vidhya Charan Shukla, a former Union Minister, had been expelled from the Congress, he joined the National Congress Party (NCP) and fielded rebel Congress candidates. Due to the split of the Congress votes, the BJP came to power in the next election in 2003.
Though Dr. Raman Singh, the BJP chief minister, and many of his ministers were inexperienced in the administration, they too did a lot of developmental works in the tribal-dominated state. Corruption also increased during the BJPs tenure.
Since Raman Singh and many of his partymen belonged to the Hindu outfit, they also followed the BJP agenda of capturing the Hindu vote bank, going against the minority Christians. They amended the already existing Madhya Pradesh Anti-conversion Bill by making it more stringent, while allowing re-conversion. But it had been turned down by Governor E.S.L. Narasimhan. Though the BJP was not always directly involved in many atrocities against Christians, under their patronage many Hindu fundamentalists and officials harmed the Church.
More than 200 legal cases had been filed against missioners for having purchased tribal land to build Church institutions and the anti-Christian officials continue to harass them with these cases. Though the legislation prohibits non-tribals from purchasing tribal land, priests and nuns, especially in the tribal-dominated Jashpur, Ambikapur and Raigarh dioceses, are forced to purchase tribal land in the name of tribal missioners to build institutions in order to develop the tribals.
Though propagating ones faith had been constitutionally guaranteed, many false cases of forcible conversions had been framed against pastors for conducting prayer services and distributing biblical literature. Re-conversion activist Dilip Singh Judeo, a Rajya Sabha member, got a boost in organising Ghar Vapasi (Homecoming) programmes. Since Dalit converts stopped receiving scholarships, reservations and loans, many of them became passive towards the Church. Many government officials took advantage of harassing Christian institutions.
Though Dr. Raman Singhs rule in Chhattisgarh was not that atrocious for Christians as in neighbouring Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat or Karnataka, many Christians feared that if BJP returned to power they will show their real colour. They preferred the Congress to come back to power. The BJP gave party tickets only to Hindus.
Many Christians, especially in the Oraon tribal Catholic-dominated Jashpur diocese, did demand for Congress tickets. Since many winnable tribal Catholics were denied Congress tickets, they contested the recent Assembly election on the tickets of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), BSP, CPI(M) and as independents. The Congress fielded mostly the present non-Christian MLAs or their sons in these areas.
Since the votes of the tribal Catholics got divided, the BJP won from Jashpur, the district headquarter, and Kunkuri, the diocesan headquarter. Denying the Congress ticket to active Catholic and Congress worker for years Apolina Xalxo, whom the church backed, the Congress fielded unpopular Catholic Uttamdan Minj in Kunkuri, who lost the election to Bharat Sai of the BJP.
In order to defeat the BJP in Pathalgaon, the Church personnel backed the non-Christian Congress candidate Rampukar Singh, who won the election, though going against the Catholic candidates of JMM and BSP.
The only so-called Catholic who got elected to the Assembly is tribal Ramdev Ram of Lundra, Ambikapur diocese. But Ram, who won on a Congress ticket, stopped practising Christianity in order to join politics. Yet, according to the missioners, Ram is a Catholic at heart and his people are practising Catholics. The only other two Christians who got elected to the Assembly are Ajit Jogi, from his tribal reserved home constituency of Marwahi with the highest margin of 42,092 votes, and his wife Dr. Renuka from the neighbouring Kota constituency, which had elected her previously.
The Christians in the state are only praying that the blooming lotus -- the symbol of the BJP -- in Chhattisgarh, does not turn the peace-loving state into another Orissa.