Tensions between Hindus and Christians in Chhattisgarh are strongest in Jashpur district, 400 km northeast of the capital, Raipur. It is the district Dilip Singh Judeo, who pioneered the Sangh parivar's 'ghar wapasi' or 'reconversion' of Christian tribals to Hinduism programme, hails from. With its 30 per cent Christian population, and 63 per cent tribal population, it lies at the heart of the tussle between the RSS and evangelist Christian priests for the tribal soul.
Jashpur votes on November 20, but it has been simmering ever since the attacks on Christians in Orissa's Kandhamal district in August-September this year occurred. Father Emmanuel Kerketta, administrator of Jashpur diocese, described how, while Christians in Kandhamal were being driven from their homes, Christians in Jashpur formed squads to protect the imposing Holy Cross Church on the outskirts of the town every night. "We met the collector for protection, and have had police the church ever since," said Kerketta. "The police have assurred us protection too."
All the three assembly seats of the district are regarded as 'safe' BJP seats. “For the last 20 years, there has not been a single Christian MLA here because of the success of our ghar wapasi programme,” Judev proudly told HT. This time round, Christians are looking for a break from this domination.
Long ago Jashpur was a Congress bastion – returning Christian MLAs like Louis Beck, John Ekka and Blasyus Ekka for two to three terms – but the ghar wapasi movement turned the tide decisively in favour of the BJP. "Even the Congress stopped giving tickets to Christians here after 1985," said Vinay Ekka, son of the late MLA Blasyus Ekka. This time, however, the Congress has fielded a Protestant, Uttamdin Minz, from the Kunkuri seat.
Congress has also won over a nephew of Judev's who was earlier close to Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, the RSS arm that works among tribals and is very active in this region.
Holding on to Jashpur’s three assembly seats is symbolically crucial for Sangh politics while wresting even one could mark a huge symbolic victory for the Congress.
Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram joint general secretary Kripa Prasad Singh denied any strained relationship with the Christians.
"There is no danger of a Kandhamal-type eruption here," he said. "But people should speak responsibly. A nun recently told a newspaper that Christians were fearing attacks. I talked to church leaders and asked them to admonish her for spreading rumours."