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Orissa Church indifferent as ruling alliance breaks up

03/10/09 BHUBANESWAR, India (UCAN) — Christian leaders in Orissa say they see no reason to rejoice even though a pro-Hindu party broke away from its leading coalition partner in the eastern Indian state government.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian people’s party) withdrew its support for the state’s coalition government on March 8.

The party had forged an alliance with a leading secular regional party, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD, people’s front of Biju), 11 years ago. The alliance was accused of tacitly approving Hindu-extremist violence against Christians in the state.

The two parties broke off their partnership over the subject of seat sharing for the forthcoming elections to the federal parliament and state legislative assembly. Media analysts have speculated if the breakup, that many see as boosting the BJD’s secular image, would result in a more secular approach in government policies.

“It is, after all, politics, so we cannot predict at this moment any good for the Church,” said Divine Word Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, head of the Catholic Church in the state.

The two parties won 93 seats in the 147-seat state legislature in the 2004 elections, of which the pro-Hindu BJP got 32 seats. The BJP was seeking to win more seats in the April 16-23 elections. However, BJD set a limit of 35 seats for its alliance partner.

The BJD also refused to allow the BJP to contest more than five of the state’s 21 federal parliament seats. Media analysts say the BJP was emboldened to demand more seats as it thinks anti-Christian violence last year has polarized Hindu and Christian voters.

The violence Hindu extremists orchestrated since Aug. 24 killed more than 60 people and displaced 50,000, mostly Christians. Thousands are still staying in government-run relief camps, fearing death and violence in their villages.

Christian leaders and secularists have accused the ruling alliance of apathy, and allowing the sectarian violence to continue for four months. Some people have commented that the end of the BJP-BJD alliance is good for the secular future of the state.

Protestant Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak of Berhampur said it would be a “good sign” for the state and the Church if the development helps “a single secular party” to win majority seats in the legislature.

“However, we cannot predict anything at this moment,” he said. “The two parties may unite after the election. There is still time for pre-poll and post-poll alliances. We can only wait and watch.”

Father Alphonse Toppo, vicar general of Sambalpur Catholic diocese, said he believes the breaking up of the alliance would help the state to have “a stable government of secular parties.”

Dharmapad Ranjit, a Hindu social worker and rights activist, said people like him want secular parties to contest the election. The BJP-BJD break-up will help uphold secularism in the state, he predicted.

Ramarao Nayak, a lawyer in the violence-hit Kandhamal district, said the new developments could bring justice to the victims of anti-Christian violence. The Christian community should welcome the breaking of the alliance, the Hindu leader added.