Indian tax officials raided the offices of evangelist Paul Dhinakaran on Jan. 20. (Photo: karunya.edu)
Federal income tax officials have raided the offices of a senior Gospel preacher in India's Tamil Nadu state for alleged tax evasion in the second such search of Christian premises in the past three months.
The Income Tax Department on Jan. 20 raided at least 29 properties across the southern state belonging to evangelist Paul Dhinakaran, the son of the late preacher and Jesus Calls ministry founder D.G.S. Dhinakaran.
Tax officials primarily raided Karunya Institute of Technology and Sciences in Coimbatore town and premises of Jesus Calls in Chennai city.
The raids came after officials conducted similar searches last November at Believers Church's headquarters in Kerala state for three days.
Believers Church officials said they have records of filing tax returns and presented them to officials. Officials arrested no one following the November raid nor told the media if there were any irregularities.
Taxmen have also not disclosed details of their findings in the latest search.
Some observers in New Delhi link the raids to the emerging political landscape in Tamil Nadu, which goes to the polls in April-May along with West Bengal, Kerala and Assam.
Dhinakaran's ministry, which is popular in Tamil Nadu and most of southern India, can indirectly influence voters.
The raids could be a political tactic of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which runs the federal government, said an observer who requested anonymity.
The Jesus Calls ministry telecasts 400 programs a month, in 10 different languages across the globe, containing real-life stories from people who have overcome their troubles through faith and prayer along with hope.
"Every day thousands of people are longing for a blessing, a miracle in their lives, and it is for them that the Jesus Calls Prayer Towers are open to pour their needs to God and receive a miracle," its website says.
"There are 109 Prayer Towers in India and 14 Prayer Towers outside India (International Affiliates) to pray for people who are in distress, agony and pain."
Karunya Institute of Technology, founded in 1986, has 8,000 students taking courses in science and technology, arts, media and management.
Hindu groups and the BJP claim Christian groups use foreign funding for their philanthropic, educational and health services. These services are a façade to influence the poor to follow Christianity, they argue.
The move against Christian groups helps BJP project itself as a champion of Hindu causes, which has helped it politically in some states, observers say.
Dhinakaran has kept channels of communication with New Delhi and has interacted with BJP leaders occasionally.
In fact, in 2013, when the BJP named Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate, Dhinakaran was a popular personality to meet and congratulate Modi.
"Tamil Nadu is ready for Hindutva-driven politics," prominent BJP leader Subramanian Swamy said recently.
However, the Modi-led BJP does not have much organizational strength in the southern state, where the chief competitors for power are two regional parties.