11/18/2008, 00.00
INDIA
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India state elections: ten Christians running for office in Madhya Pradesh

by Nirmala Carvalho
BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh begins voting on 27 November. Some Christians are running as candidates in a number of parties.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Voters in four states will follow those of Jammu and Kashmir who began casting their ballots yesterday. The first one will be Madhya Pradesh (27 November), a state ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a nationalist party linked to militant Hindu fundamentalist groups.

To know more about these elections AsiaNews talked to Fr Anand Muttungal, spokesman for the local Bishops’ Conference, and Xavier Meda, deputy chairman  of the Madhya Pradesh Isai Mahasangh (Madyha Pradesh Christian Federation), a local political action group.

For the first time ten Christians will run in state elections in Madhya Pradesh. One of them is Xavier Meda, a Tribal Christian who is trying to get elected in the Jhabua district. Meda, 32, talked to AsiaNews about his decision.

“Incidents caused by Hindu fundamentalist violence against Christians are routine in Jhabua,” he said. “I have two small children and the future of our young generations needs to be secured. The majority community treats Tribal Christians with scorn and disdain and this has to end. For this to happen we must have our own voice in the [state] assembly to seek justice and rights for Christians, not only in Jhabua but throughout Madhya Pradesh and across the whole of India. This is one of the priorities in my election manifesto.”

The Madhya Pradesh Isai Mahasangh (MPIM) made Meda’s candidacy and that of nine other Christians possible. He is also the organisation’s deputy chairman.

Fr Anand Muttungal, a spokesman for the local Bishops’ Conference, is the MPIM’s current coordinator; a man of inspiration.

“The Madhya Pradesh Isai Mahasangh is not a political party but a group of people of good will who have an active interest in politics. Among them are people who are sensitive to a secular approach to politics,” Father Muttungal said. Hence, the group “short-listed candidates for nomination, asking they be given a chance to run in the Assembly elections.”

“The local Catholic community has helped the population at large in health care, education and social assistance. Its initiatives are open to all, irrespective of caste or religion. However, the recent wave of anti-Christian sentiments and violence in places like Orissa or Karnataka we must enter the political arena,” said the clergyman.

“Last year alone there have been 35 serious incidents of violence against the Christian community. These do not include minor things like harassment, beatings, attacks against churches or false accusations against Christian workers,” he explained. “Since the BJP came to power in 2003 the number of violent episodes has rise to over 150.”

What is the profile of Christians involved in politics according to Father Muttungal? They are people who want to “take part in nation-building, interested in the country’s development. Every Christian involved in politics directly contributes to building the nation; at the same time through their action they contribute to the kingdom of truth, justice, peace and development. This is what Christians are called to do; their vocation is to contribute to civil society and reaffirm the dignity of those who are last in society, those who have no voice.”

In light of this the MPIM’s agenda includes selecting candidates, training them and getting them into public life.

“It is my belief that at this point in time Christians are not ready to set up their own party. For this reason the MPIM has called on various parties to include Christian candidates on their ticket and support their cause,” said Father Muttungal. “This year ten Christians are running for office in Madhya Pradesh for different political parties. Their number went from two to ten for the first time.”

Recently the MPIM also passed a resolution to make 25 August Christian Martyrs Day in India. Anti-Christian attacks broke out in Orissa at the end of last August.

On this date the MPIM plans to commemorate “all Christians, starting with Saint Thomas, who was killed whilst serving the Lord.”

For her part Sheela Shantiago, head of the MPIM’s women’s branch, proposed that women who experienced harassment and torture be honoured like those who suffered martyrdom.

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