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Indian state's Christians wary of new hard-line Hindu governor

'Radical' BJP member appointed to run Christian-majority Mizoram in northeast but critics say role should be apolitical

Indian state's Christians wary of new hard-line Hindu governor

Kummanam Rajasekharan (third from left) leads a march in Kannur, Kerala in this Oct. 5, 2017 photo when he was president of the state unit of Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP). (File photo/IANS)

Bijay Kumar Minj, New Delhi
India

May 31, 2018

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India's pro-Hindu government has appointed Kummanam Rajasekharan, an active member of the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), to serve as the 18th governor of Christian-majority Mizoram state.

The federal government nominated Rajasekharan while he was serving as president of the party's Kerala state unit, eliciting mixed reactions from Christian leaders on the fairness of slotting an ideologically biased politician into what is supposed to be an apolitical role.

He was sworn in on May 29 to effectively run the hilly state in India's northeast, one of three Christian-majority states along with Meghalaya and Nagaland.

He succeeded (retired) Lt. Gen. Nirbhay Sharma whose three-year tenure ended on May 28.

He is also a known activist who belongs to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a hard-line Hindu nationalist paramilitary organization made up of volunteers.

Bishop Stephen Rotluanga of Aizawl, the state capital of Mizoram, told ucanews.com that he attended the oath-taking ceremony along with other Christian leaders.

He said he did not "see the appointment as pushing any Hindu agenda."

State governors are seen as representatives of India's president, a role currently filled by ex-Bihar governor Ram Nath Kovind.

They are empowered to ensure their respective state is run in such a way that protects the core values of the charter, notably by guaranteeing human rights and religious freedom, and working beyond the interests of any particular party.

But Rajasekharan's appointment comes amid criticism that the BJP has been influencing state governors to make "favorable" decisions that ultimately serve its agenda.

Mizoram is expected to see assembly elections by December as the current government's term will draw to a close.

"We can't predict if his appointment will have any say in the outcome of the state election. People here have lived in harmony for years regardless of caste or creed," Bishop Rotluanga said.

"Everyone must abide by the constitution of India, including the president of this country and all the state governors, so we hope Gov. Rajasekharan will respect that, too," the prelate said.

Some Christian organizations have criticized the decision to elevate Rajasekharan to his new role as they fear it could compromise their struggle for equal rights for Christians in the region.

The People's Representation for Identity and Status of Mizoram (PRISM), a Christian-backed political party, and the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) both issued statements describing him as a "radical Hindu."

GCIC President Sajan K George told ucanews.com that the appointment "surprised and shocked" him given Rajasekharan's track record of leading Hindu groups when conflict broke out between them and Christians in the southern state of Kerala in 1983.

Rajasekharan served as the BJP's unit chief of Kerala for three years.

In his statement, George appealed to President Ram Nath Kovind to replace Rajasekharan with a more "sober and fair-minded person."

PRISM's objections were chiefly based on Rajasekharan's recent role in Kerala. The group said it was unprecedented to have an active politician as a governor in Mizoram, a tiny state sandwiched between Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Christians represent around 87 percent of the state's 1.1 million people. Another 8 percent are Buddhists, leaving Hindus with just 2.7 percent.

These demographics contrast with the national average which sees India composed of 80 percent Hindus and 2.3 percent Christians.

In Meghalaya and Nagaland, Christians also make up close to 90 percent of their respective populations.

The BJP consolidated its power in the northeast during the elections in March, winning a landslide in Tripura to overturn a quarter-century of communist rule in the state, but the nomination of Rajasekharan is seen as a more controversial development.

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