From a Special Correspondent in Ranchi
The churches in Jharkhand have issued fatwa-like religious circular urging the Christian electorate to vote candidates to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies.
The Christian religious leaders include Cardinal Telesphore Toppo of Roman Catholic Church, Bishop T.S.C. Hans of the Church of North India and Bishop P.D.S. Tirkey of north-west Gossner Evangelical Lutheran Church. Cardinal Toppo has been involved in many controversies before.
The Catholic Church in Jharkhand has openly come out against the BJP and its allies and asked Christians to vote in favour of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and Congress candidates. Cardinal Toppo has issued a religious circular advising all Christians to exercise their franchise to defeat the BJP candidates. Recently an influential central minister, Oscar Fernandes, met Cardinal Toppo in Ranchi and their photographs were splashed in the daily newspapers.
Fernandes was on a special mission to gauge the mood of Christians there and strengthen the position of the Congress among Christian voters.
Tribals constitute 27 per cent of the 27 million population of the state and some 8 per cent population in this tribal state is said to be Christian. The Santhal Pargana region with nearly 25 Assembly seats has a sizeable number of tribal voters, particularly in the Dumka and Rajmahal constituencies.
The Congress High Command of late had become panicky about JMM-Congress front not doing well and the high-handed manner of Shibu Soren has further increased their worry. The stroke that broke the back of the camel came when staunch Christian and JMM Number 2, Stephen Marandi, decided to contest as an independent from Jamtara constituency.
In Dumka area the Church had openly come out against the BJP candidate. So much so that a Roman Catholic priest, Albinus Marumu, is contesting the Assembly elections. Although the Catholic Church has directed him to withdraw his nominations many feel that this is a strategy to garner support in favour of rebel leader, Stephen Marandi. Dumka has been a stronghold of Christian missionaries but of late the JMM has made inroads in it. The Church is keen to retain influence over the faithful and over the state politics. In its assessment, Shibu Soren may not be that helpful to ?their cause? and is looking for a Ajit Jogi in Jharkhand. Cardinal Toppo denies leaning towards any political party and says, ?My doors are open to anyone.? But on the eve of voting for the second phase, the photographs of Cardinal Toppo and Fernandes have raised doubts in many minds and is seen as evidence of an unholy alliance.
In its early assessment, the Congress party had visualised a comfortable victory for the JMM-Congress alliance but large-scale ticket-seekers have spoilt their game-plan. Shibu Soren himself is worried about the dominance of Church in the state politics. The Left parties are also not happy with the Congress over this episode. They have experienced such situations in Kerala earlier.
Several Indian Christian intellectuals, who favour dialogue with Hindus and want to live as good neighbours, are perturbed over the aggressive participation in party politics by the Church and feel that the Church in India is acting against the teachings of Christ by crossing the spiritual threshold. But with ample foreign money the temporal power within easy reach who is bothered about spirituality?