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Minorities take center stage in Indian state poll

Christians welcome financial aid pledge from opposition party ahead of election in Telangana state
The Telangana Secretariat in Hyderabad. At the Nov. 30 polls, minorities in the southern state will play a crucial role.

The Telangana Secretariat in Hyderabad. At the Nov. 30 polls, minorities in the southern state will play a crucial role. (Photo: AFP)

Published: November 13, 2023 07:07 AM GMT
Updated: November 13, 2023 11:19 AM GMT

Indian Church leaders have welcomed a campaign pledge by an opposition party to help religious minorities ahead of polls in southern Telangana state, calling it a positive sign when compared to the neglect minorities say they experience elsewhere in the country. 

Ahead of Nov. 30 polls in India’s youngest state, the opposition Congress has promised a hike in financial assistance to religious minorities, including Christians and Muslims, if voted into power at the assembly in the state capital Hyderabad.

“The Congress is the only party that has responded to our demands, even if partially,” said J. R. Sudhir, a lay Christian leader from Telangana.

“We are happy that at least 10 percent of our demands are accepted by the party,” Sudhir, a member of the Baptist Church, told UCA News on Nov.10.

Telangana faces a three-way contest as the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (India National Council) is seeking to retain power against the efforts of its rivals Congress and the pro-Hindu Bhartiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Election results in five Indian states along with Telangana will be declared on Dec. 3. Christian-majority Mizoram in the northeast went to the polls in early November.

In Teleangana, minorities make up nearly 15 percent of the population and can influence the outcome in 29 out of 119 constituencies and in another 30 they can play the deciding role.

On Nov. 9, Congress party state president, A. Revanth Reddy, announced  a “Minority Declaration” which promised a slew of welfare measures for Christians and Muslims.

The declaration announced a steep hike in the annual budget for minority welfare to US$500 million, up from the current $216 million.

Under a special scheme, the party has promised to provide financial assistance to religious minority youths to pursue higher studies.

The party has also vowed to protect Muslim and Christian graveyards.

Representing Christians, who make up 2 percent of Telangana’s 35 million population, the Telangana State Federation of Churches, Telangana Council of Churches and the Synod of Telangana last month met all the political parties with a  list of demands which included parties having Christians among their candidates contesting the polls.

“It is true the Congress party has at least considered some of our demands while others have remained silent,”said Father Anthoniraj Thumma, advisor of the Federation of Telugu Church based in Telangana.

“We will still continue to approach political parties seeking their support for our genuine demands,” said Tumma, who also acts as secretary of the Indian Catholic Bishops Conference’s office of dialogue and ecumenism.

The Congress has agreed to support the demand of Christians and Muslims from backward communities to get the benefits from reservation quotas under India’s affirmative action plan.

India’s Supreme Court is currently hearing a petition demanding reservation status for Christians and Muslims.

Christians expect the promises to be part of the manifesto of the Congress Party, said Father Aloysius Ephrem Raju Alex, deputy secretary of the regional Telugu Catholic Bishops’ Council.

“This is only the deceleration. The manifesto is yet to come,” Alex told UCA News.

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