09/03/2009, 00.00
INDIA
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Air tragedy in Andhra Pradesh: Governor Reddy, defender of Christian Dalits, dies

by Nirmala Carvalho
Christian politician among the ranks of Congress, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy was known for his battles in favour of the marginalized. The bishop of Hyderabad: "I lost a friend" who "never feared declaring his faith" and “never discriminated on the basis of caste or creed."

Hyderabad (AsiaNews) - The death of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, leaves India without words. A 60 year old Christian and leading member of Congress, Reddy was considered one of the most influential long standing politicians of the country. The discovery of the wreckage of the helicopter in which he was travelling with four other people has removed all illusions for those who hoped that the news of the disappearance of the aircraft, relayed on the afternoon of September 2, would be denied.  

"It's really a sad day and I am deeply shocked" was the comment of Narayan Dutt Tiwari, Governor of the State. Mourning the sudden death of Reddy are not just the supporters of Congress and party colleagues and the government. The 8 million Christians in Indian state are also mourning the death of the chief minister.  

Reached by AsiaNews, Mgr. Marampudi Joji, archbishop of Hyderabad, says: "The Church of Andhra Pradesh has lost a champion of the oppressed and a champion of the rights of Dalit Christians. Our chief minister understood their suffering and injustices they bore "

Reddy's commitment to the so-called outcast was well known. Only a few days ago, on 26 August, he had sponsored a motion to the state's official central government in New Delhi, asking that Christian Dalits be ensured the same rights as Hindu Dalits. The motion was passed by Andhra Pradesh parliament by a majority.  The only opposition was from the fierce nationalists of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) . 

 "I lost a friend," comments Msgr. Joji. "The Andhra Pradesh has enjoyed religious freedom. Here Christians can pray and practice their faith. Reddy has shown special attention to minorities, always acting according to the principle of the equality of all communities. "

In 2008, Reddy extended the schema used by the government to support Muslim pilgrims on their way to Mecca also to Christians who longed to visit the Holy Land.  

The bishop of Hyderabad, describes the Chief Minister as "a model politician and leader. All have benefited from his inclusive politics, especially the poor and marginalized. He has never acted to discriminate on the basis of caste or creed”. 

A Christian who was "never afraid to declare his faith", Reddy was frequently threatened by extremist groups who did not accept his policy of equality.

Among his staunchest opponents were Hindu extremists, but also the Communist-Maoist rebel factions who for thirty years have been fomenting revolt in Andhra Pradesh between the peasants and the state. After the news first broke of the tragic air accident, some media reports had speculated that Maoist guerrillas were behind the helicopter crash. The Indian military authorities confirm however that the fatality was due to bad weather conditions in the area.

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