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Madhya Pradesh Church Upbeat As Three Christians Win Election To State Assembly

12/12/08 JABALPUR, India (UCAN) — Church leaders in Madhya Pradesh see “positive” signs in the election of three Christians to the central Indian state’s legislative assembly.

The election results show that “people inimical to Christians are very few, otherwise no Christian could have been elected,” according to Archbishop Leo Cornelio Bhopal, head of the Catholic Church in the state.

Christians account for 200,000 of the state’s estimated 60 million people, less than half a percent. Hindus, the majority community, form 91 percent of the population while Muslims form more than 6 percent.

Thirteen Christians were among 3,179 candidates contesting the Nov. 27 election for seats in the 230-member house. The results were announced Dec. 8.

The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian people’s party), which has ruled the state for the past five years, retained control of the assembly, winning 143 seats. The main opposition, the Congress party, won 71 seats.

The Christian winners — Catholics Xavier Meda and Joseph Pachilal Meda, and Protestant Ratnesh Solomon — all ran on the Congress party ticket.

The new Christian legislators were busy meeting people in the remote villages, and could not be reached for comments even after several attempts.

Their victory is “a very positive sign,” Archbishop Cornelio told UCA News. The archbishop said the results would encourage more Christians to get involved in politics. The prelate is based in the state capital of Bhopal, some 745 kilometers south of New Delhi.

Church people say that during the previous BJP government’s five-year rule, starting in December 2003, hundreds of cases of anti-Christian violence took place in Madhya Pradesh. The BJP is considered the political arm of groups that want to make India a Hindu theocratic state.

Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur, another Catholic prelate in the state, credited the ecumenical Isai Mahasangh (IM, grand council of Christians) for creating “political awareness” among Christians. “The result is really wonderful,” he told UCA News.

The IM, formed this April, “did a wonderful job” in organizing the community for the election and also in taking up challenges, especially when churches and people were attacked, noted Bishop Almeida. Jabalpur lies 310 kilometers east of Bhopal.

IM president Joshi Kurisungal told UCA News the winning Christian candidates have given the community “eyes and ears in the legislature.” The previous assembly had no Christian member, and hence the community’s voice “was not heard in the house,” he added.

Father Anand Muttungal, who coordinates the ecumenical council, credited the Christians’ success to “nothing but their commitment to the public cause.” The priest also noted that some Hindu radicals had made the Christians’ religious identity an issue in the election.

Father Muttungal said IM would strive to encourage more youths to join politics. The council aims to be Christians’ “collective force,” not only to oppose attacks but also to educate it about sociopolitical measures needed to protect the community.