Vicious attack’

Published January 1, 2004

Church leaders in India have blamed a campaign “targeting Christians” for the victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in elections for legislators last month in the country’s central Chattisgarh state.

The BJP, which has a Hindu-nationalist agenda, unseated a Congress Party state government headed by Chief Minister Ajit Jogi, who is a member of the Church of North India.

“Christians have been used as whipping boys to bring the BJP into power here,” said Rev. Cyril Cornelius, director of the Christian Association for Radio and Audio Visual Services.

During the election campaign the BJP had pledged to ban religious conversions among Hindus across the nation if it came to power. Hindu groups supporting BJP sponsored advertisements in several local daily newspapers that portrayed a bishop forcibly converting a “tribal person” (as some indigenous people are labeled) as a henchman kept watch on a cage holding other tribal people to be baptized “on orders of the Pope.”

“This is vicious,” said Joseph Augustine Charanakunnel, Roman Catholic bishop of Raipur, the capital of Chattisgarh. “We are used to constant Christian-bashing here. But this is beyond all limits.”

The issue of conversion is particularly sensitive in Chattisgarh, where more than 35 per cent of the 20-million population is composed of tribal people. Christians account for only 500,000 of the population.

The Congress Party fared badly in areas with a predominantly tribal population, where the leading BJP candidate Dilip Singh Judeo campaigned strongly against conversions.

Four Indian states went to the polls Dec. 1 and the BJP won three of the four elections. The Congress Party was able to retain power only in the tiny state of Delhi, the Indian capital.


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