If there was a national award for inventing appeasement populism, the first claimant for that would have been the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Rajasekhara Reddy. The man who kick started the UPA Muslim quota business in his state as the first act of his government in May 2004, has now offered to subsidise travel by Christians to their Holy Land, meaning Israel-Palestine along the lines of the Haj subsidy for Muslims.
The move is totally unconstitutional and the inspiration is blatantly communal with a political agenda. Rajasekhara Reddy is a Christian, like his party chief, though the community is not very numerous in his state. In states where the Christians are in substantial number they enjoy many privileges which are denied to the Hindus. Like the reservation in jobs and education in Kerala and Tamil Nadu and the pronouncedly Christian character of some of the North East states where the state assembly sessions begin with Bible prayers. Nobody has objected to them, but the Christian community is not known to go on pilgrimages to foreign lands the way Muslims do. There has been no demand of this sort from any quarter in the community. As such Christians are educationally and economically well off.
Most church denominations have taken up a rigorous Indianisation plank and have largely succeeded in this effort. This attempt at secularisation is being sought to be torpedoed by certan over zealous evangelical elements. Rajasekhara Reddy'seffort seems to encourage such elements.
In the last four years there were many reports of aggressive proselytising mission in the state. This had created tension in some areas especially in Tirupati-Tirumalai, where after a series of protests from Hindu groups the government had to issue a notification prohibiting non-Hindus violating the sanctity of the Holy Hills. Another controversy in the state is about the state government systematically siphoning off thousands of crores from the temple offerings for other irreligious activities. Yet another case is pending in the High Court on the state government'sattempt to sell away thousands of acres of temple property to make revenue for the exchequer.
A state government with such questionable reputation has now mooted the idea of Christian subsidy with some obvious ulterior intention. Perhaps this might ignite a new wave of demands and protests and grievance concoction. As such Christians, unlike the Muslims are a contented community. They have no dearth of foreign funding. For ecclesiastical training and studies Christians go to Vatican, and for this they spent their own money. That is no pilgrimage. Jerusalem, another holy place for Christians is a virtual war zone and Christianity has no tradition of pilgrimage to Holy Land. In India there are many places holy for them. It is not clear if Reddy has a plan to subsidise such domestic pilgrimages also.
In any case, the Constitution does not allow discrimination in the name of religion, caste and region. Every act of the UPA in these matters has been fundamentally wrong. The Haj subsidy, which is increasing every year, has now reached over Rs 4,000 crore annually. This is over and above the spending on welfare and facilitation arrangements by the states and the centre. It is high time the UPA put an end to such cynical acts of perdition for temporary political mileage.