Christians denied vote in Indian state election

Plans to seek an official inquiry into the names of many Christians not being included on voter list
Christians denied vote in Indian state election

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal speaking to media outside a polling station Nov. 28 after he was denied the right vote in the Madhya Pradesh state election. Hundreds of other Christians also were turned away by officials who said their names were not on the voter list. (Photo provided)

Hundreds of Christians, including a Catholic archbishop, were turned away from polling booths in India's Madhya Pradesh state because their names were not on the voter list.

Christian leaders claimed there was foul play in the Nov. 28 poll.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal, the state capital, and hundreds of other Christians, had to return home without exercising their franchise to elect 230 legislators.

This was despite them having election identity cards and other relevant documents.

Christian leader Saji Abraham flagged a petition to election authorities seeking an investigation of what he branded as a conspiracy.

He and other Christian leaders suspect that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has ruled the state for 15 years, influenced officials to remove from voter eligibility lists the names of Christians traditionally considered supporters of the BJP's archrival, the Congress Party.

"I'm sure my name was deliberately deleted from the voter list, which is unjust and not a good sign for the democracy," Archbishop Cornelio told ucanews.com.

The prelate said he was denied the right to vote, even though he showed his election identity card, on the basis of an incomplete voters' list.

"This is a stern message to the Christian community that they are no more in the reckoning," Archbishop Cornelio said.

"The message is subtly conveyed through deletion of names of senior community leaders."

Indira Iyengar, a 78-year-old Christian former member of the Madhya Pradesh State Minorities Commission, said there had been a BJP-supported move to lower the number of votes for the Congress Party. She was also denied the right to vote.

"It is a well known fact that I am a member of the Congress Party and my vote will never go to any other party," she said.

"Therefore, my name was struck out."

She added, in reference to the BJP; "It is a ploy of the Hindu party."

Christians comprise 0.29 percent, or some 211,000 of the state's 73 million people, with 91 percent of them Hindu.

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Muslims, the largest religious minority, make about seven percent of Madhya Pradesh's population.

The BJP, which also runs the federal government, has been accused of providing politically motivated support to hard-line Hindu nationalist groups.

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