07/08/2021, 13.57
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New Delhi: a tribal Christian joins the Modi cabinet

by Nirmala Carvalho

John Barla becomes a Minister of State in the Ministry of Minority Affairs in a major cabinet reshuffle sparked by criticism over the government’s handling of the pandemic. A former tea plantation workers leader, Barla was elected in 2019 to the lower house of parliament with the BJP. For Archbishop Barwa of Bhubaneswar, the new minister “has the task to be the voice of the lost, the least, the last”.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – A tribal Christian, John Barla, is one 43 new faces in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new cabinet following a major reshuffle sparked by criticisms over his handling of the pandemic. Barla will serve as Minister of State in the Ministry of Minority Affairs.

Originally from West Bengal, where he was a tea farm workers leader, Barla, 46, is a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu nationalist party. He was elected in 2019 to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian parliament, to represent the constituency of Alipurduar, at the foot of the Himalayas.

He recently came out in favour of making north Bengal a union territory, complaining that its development has been neglected by the state government in Kolkata (Calcutta).

Archbishop John Barwa of Bhubaneswar, also a tribal, spoke to AsiaNews about John Barla's appointment. “I congratulate the new entry in the ministry,” said the prelate. “This is very good.”

The new minister “has the task to be the voice of the lost, the least, the last and the unheard. Our task is to support, encourage and pray for him”.

Verbite Nicholas Barla, secretary of the Tribal Affairs office of the Catholic Indian Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) is also satisfied with the appointment.

“The Government of India has taken into consideration Tribals as well as minorities from the aspect of faith. We are happy,” he told AsiaNews.

“Tribal Christian communities have long been demanding a separate religion code in the census; so, we hope that the new minister will take it forward and fulfil the aspiration of tribal people.”

Furthermore, “there are many protected laws, for example, on land rights, forest rights, social and cultural rights”; tribal groups “expect Minister John Barla to work to implement them.”

More specifically, tribal people are demanding the application of their constitutional rights that have not yet been implemented.

In Modi’s cabinet reshuffle, 12 ministers lost their position, including the heads of key ministries like Health, Labour, Education, Environment and Information Technology.

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