A newly installed state government in central India plans to form a ministry of spirituality to nurture inter-religious harmony and combat rampant violence by hard-line Hindus against Christians and Muslims. Religious minority leaders have welcomed the initiative of Congress Party-led government of Madhya Pradesh that took power on Dec.17, after it defeated the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in an election in November. The state, governed by the BJP for the past 15 years, reported hundreds of violent incidents against religious minorities such as Christian and Muslims. A Congress Party government communique Dec. 29 said the state's new chief minister, Kamal Nath
, had decided to form a ministry and department to strengthen inter-communal harmony and religious amity. The communique noted that many countries — including the United States, England, Argentina, Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Brunei, Myanmar, Tunisia, Indonesia and Denmark — had done likewise. Church leaders such as Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal told ucanews.com on Jan. 2 the special new ministry would be worthwhile as Madhya Pradesh had been fractured by hate. Religiously, ethnically and culturally diverse countries such as India could not advance unless their various communities collaborated, the prelate said. He noted that in India there was often false propaganda against Christians and Muslims. "They are reduced to objects of hate," Archbishop Cornelio said. "The ministry can help heal such misgivings against religious communities and ensure peace and respect to all." Church leaders accused the former BJP-led government in the state of tacitly supporting violence orchestrated by Hindu hardliners against Christians and Muslims in a push for Hindu dominance. The BJP, despite winning the past three consecutive state elections, could manage only 107 seats in the 230-seat legislative house this time. Congress emerged as the single largest party with 114 seats, only two short of a simple majority, and formed government with the support of smaller parties and independent legislators. Saji Abraham, state president of the communal harmony division of the Congress Party, said that under the BJP the state became a hotbed of religious violence, especially anti-Christian. He described the new Madhya Pradesh government initiative as an attempt to apply a balm to wounds inflicted by the BJP.
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Abraham added that the BJP tried to create divisions among religious communities for political purposes. The state reported the highest number of anti-Christian incidents in the past three years, according to a report by Persecution Relief, an Indian ecumenical forum. Attack against Christians, who constitute less than one percent of the state's 73 million people, almost doubled in 2017. Madhya Pradesh witnessed 52 reported attacks against Christians in 2017, up from 28 in 2016. Shibu Thomas
, founder of Persecution Relief, said that in 2018, there were at least 24 major incidents against Christians.