09/02/2009, 00.00
INDIA

Jharkhand calls on the Church to help with drought emergency, a step opposed by Hindu extremists

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh charges the government of being “run on communal lines”, something which “will prove dangerous for the people.” For the local BJP president, the new policy is “an attempt to Christianise the State.” For him “Congress wants to win the [next] election with the support of the Church.”

Ranchi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Indian State of Jharkhand has called on the Catholic Church to help distribute food aid to people affected by drought. This has however caused the ire of the Hindu nationalist organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Jharkhand Governor’s advisor TP Sinha on Sunday made a formal request to Card Telesphore P Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi, for the Church’s official participation in the public distribution system (PDS) in all 24 of the State’s districts.

In July and August the average amount of rain in Jharkhand was 26 per cent below average. Small farmers and Tribal groups have been especially affected. As a result only 22 per cent of local rice fields have met their annual production quota. Whole villages have been abandoned by their residents as people left for the cities where they joined the millions of slum dwellers.

In response to the food emergency State authorities allocated US$ two million to help the large number of residents affected by the drought, this in a State where 52 per cent of the population already lived below the poverty line.

However, for RSS Chief Mithilesh Narayan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Indian National Congress is to blame for what is happening in Jharkhand.

“The Congress party as a whole is in a hurry to please the Church in order to please its president, Sonia Gandhi,” Narayan said.

For the RSS leader, Jharkhand’s State administration is wrong “to outsource one of the most important responsibilities of the State government”. The State itself should not “be run on communal lines”, something which “will prove dangerous for the people.”

The RSS is an umbrella organisation that includes a number of groups of volunteers who operate especially in tribal areas.

For the RSS having the Church play a role in the public distribution system is tantamount to approving Catholic missionary activity.

For Narayan this is unwelcome interference in a domain, that of Tribal communities, that the RSS considers as its own exclusive prerogative.

The government’s decision has also been criticised by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Raghuwar Das, chairman of the BJP’s Jharkhand wing, attacked the decision as “an attempt to Christianise the State.” For him “Congress wants to win the [next] election with the support of the Church.”

Since January of this year the State has been under the ‘President’s rule’. State-wide elections are scheduled for February of next year. Buoyant as a result of its strong showing in last April’s Union elections, the BJP wants the poll to be moved up to this October, and is accusing Congress of trying to delay the end of central rule in order to better prepare itself for the upcoming elections.

For its part the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has announced that it will oppose the State’s overture to the Church.

Conversely, the authorities in the State capital of Ranchi have confirmed their intention to bring in Catholic associations, explaining that this is part of a broader strategy to involve every NGO able to work with the public distribution system.

“I am an administrator, not a politician,” TP Sinha said when asked about the controversy. “I am not concerned with the RSS, the USS or Congress.”

“You talked about Christian [groups]. I have asked Pradhan, an NGO, and the Ramkrishna Mission for their support. [Neither of] these is attached to Christian missionaries,” Sinha said. Yet their involvement did not generate any controversy.

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