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Christian group’s support for Congress irks India’s ruling BJP

The Arunachal Christian Forum's move has sparked controversy with accusations of exploiting religion for political gains
Christians of various denominations join an 'All Church Prayer for the Nation' program at Christ Church in Guwahati, Assam, in northeast India, on April 6, 2019

Christians of various denominations join an 'All Church Prayer for the Nation' program at Christ Church in Guwahati, Assam, in northeast India, on April 6, 2019. (Photo supplied)

Published: April 05, 2024 10:47 AM GMT
Updated: April 05, 2024 10:47 AM GMT

A Christian group in a northeast Indian state has declared support for opposition Congress Party candidates in the upcoming national polls, upsetting the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Arunachal Christian Forum (ACF) in an April 3 circular urged all its member and denominational organizations to “extend full support and work for” Congress candidates Nabam Tuki and Bosiram Siram, who are contesting against the BJP’s sitting parliamentarians from the two constituencies in Arunachal Pradesh state.

It warned the member organizations that defying the circular would lead to their cancellation of membership and other disciplinary measures being initiated against them.

Tuki, a former chief minister of the state, is contesting the West Arunachal constituency against Federal Minister Kiren Rijiju, while Siram is pitted against the BJP's State President Tapir Gao in the East Arunachal constituency.

Rijiju has accused the Congress and its leader Rahul Gandhi of exploiting the Christian group for political gains against his BJP.

“Dear Rahul Gandhi, why have you allowed such things in [an] election? Your Congress Party is blatantly misusing a pure Christian Forum in Arunachal Pradesh so brazenly against BJP," the minister posted on X, on April 4.

He further said that Modi “has done so much for northeast” region and questioned Gandhi for “using Christians against him.”

The ACF’s open endorsement of the Congress candidates is a significant development as Christians make up over 30 percent of the state’s 1.56 million people. Hindus are 29.04 percent while local Indigenous faiths constitute 26.20 percent.

The prominent four candidates in the fray from Arunachal Pradesh follow the state's indigenous religions. Votes will be cast on April 19.

In its circular, the ACF said it was supporting the Congress candidates to “continue the ongoing democratic movement against the present regime.”

It also listed its demands which include repealing the state’s anti-conversion law, and an assurance not to rob tribal Christians of their Scheduled Tribe status which ensures them education and job benefits under India’s affirmative action program.

The ACF also wants the targeting of Christians and their institutions or faith practices to stop.

A similar controversy arose during the last general election in 2019 when the Arunachal Pradesh Catholic Association issued a “prayer petition” appealing to its members to pray and vote for Congress candidates in the state.

The news reports about the appeal went viral on social media and caught the attention of the Election Commission, which directed the Catholic body to withdraw its appeal and issue an apology.

The latest row is also likely to snowball into a controversy as BJP leaders are worried since Arunachal Pradesh is part of the northeast region, which has Christian-dominated states like Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram.

Christians in strife-torn Manipur belonging to the indigenous Kuki and Zo tribes have already declared they are not fielding candidates for the upcoming general election in protest against ongoing violence that has so far claimed 219 lives, mostly Christians.

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