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Indian anti-nuclear priest sees 'conspiracy' in Church suspension

Church authorities took exception to his running for a lower house seat in parliament

A Catholic priest who defied his superiors by running for political office in southern India has alleged a "high-level" conspiracy after being suspended by his bishop.

Father M P Jesuraj, a well-known anti-nuclear activist, is seeking a lower house seat in the Tirunelveli constituency in Tamil Nadu, representing the Common Man's Party

Bishop Gerald Paulraj of Palayamkottai announced the suspension on April 23, a day before polling took place. A statement released by the bishop said the suspension is retroactive to March 30.

It was widely expected that the priest would win the election.

Fr Jesuraj called the timing of the suspension "suspicious".

"I see a conspiracy in it" to help the rival Congress party candidate, he said.

Fr. Jesuraj, 40, said that his supporters had asked him to participate in elections to help close the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, which local residents fear will contaminate the area and destroy the waterways used by fishermen.

The priest was one of the leaders of the movement against the nuclear power plant in Idinthakarai village.

The announcement of the suspension is aimed at taking away Catholics' vote from the priest, his supporters said.

"It was a surprise for me as I was under the impression that my case will be treated as a special one because I am contesting the election for a cause" that was supported by the church, Fr. Jesuraj told ucanews.com.

The priest said he met the bishop in March seeking permission to participate in the election following a popular demand for his candidacy. While Bishop Paulraj denied permission to run, he agreed it was an extraordinary situation that left the priest with an impression that his case will be considered sympathetically, Fr. Jesuraj said.

"Our campaign had gone well attracting wide support from coastal areas. It might have irked other political parties and they wanted the Church to suspend me," Jesuraj said.

He said that the delayed suspension will not impact election results and will only be a "consolation for my opponents."

Of the 6,800 votes polled in Koodankulam, where the nuclear plant is located, he is expecting 80 percent of the votes.

"When church leaders act without conscience, they would be ignored. When they act with conscience, they will be honored," he said.

However, the church move has evoked resentment among the anti-nuclear activists in Idinthakarai.

"It's like suspending all of us from the Church," Melvin Raj told ucanews.com.

Echoing the same sentiments, Victoria Pushparayan said the suspension is only going to harm the Church's credibility.

"We were able to keep struggle going only because we have people's support and not because the Church leaders funded our struggle," she said.

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