12/09/2003, 00.00
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Church worried about BJP victory in tribal state

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Bishop Victor Kindo of the Raigarh diocese in Chattisgarh, the state that voted the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)  into power last week, says the state's Christian minority community is likely to face "tough times ahead".  Raman Singh, president of the BJP in Chattisgarh, was sworn in as the state's Chief Minister on Sunday following the party's victorious elections on Dec. 1.

The BJP won 50 seats in the 90-member Chattisgarh state assembly, while the ruling Congress Party (CP) had to content itself with a mere 37 seats in a state where 35% of 20 million people are central Indian tribal members.

"This is not a happy situation," bishop Kindo said from his Raigarh diocese office when asked for his reaction to the election results. "Considering the campaign they (Hindu groups and BJP) have carried out, while targeting us during the (election) campaign, we are heading for tough times," he said.

There are 240,000 Catholics living in the dioceses of Raigarh, most of whom are tribal or indigenous people. They account for 50% of the half million Christians living in Chattisgarh, the state which is home to 36 tribes.

In the run up to the election, the BJP harped on the conversion issue. In its election manifesto, the party announced it will ban conversions to Christianity if voted to power.

During the climax of the election campaign, Hindu groups even released advertisements in several local newspapers depicting a bishop forcibly converting a tribal member while a henchman stood guard over others encaged and waiting to be baptized by the Pope's orders.

Following its publication, bishop Joseph Augustine Charanakunnel of Raipur, the capital of Chattisgarh, issued a statement condemning the anti-Christian message as "hurting" the sentiments of the Christian community.

In addition to the Catholic Church, the Samajic Samrasta Manch (Social Harmony Forum) of Raipur –of which Hindu, Sikh and Muslim religious leaders are also members — criticized the advertisement's anti-Christian message and cautioned against "stimulating the Chattisgarh people's religious sentiments ".

Apart from its anti-Christian bias, the BJP campaign was also rooted in the fact that the outgoing Congress Party government leader in Chattisgarh is Ajit Jogi, a tribal Christian belonging to the Protestant Church of North India. (AA)

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