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Lok Sabha Elections 2019| Oppn targets Christian vote bank in two LS seats, BJP hopeful of support

Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Christians and tribals dominate the Khunti and Lohardaga seats, and recent run-ins between the state govt and Christian missionaries have raised Opposition’s hopes. Recent events have made Congress and JMM believe that Khunti and Lohardaga could reject the BJP.

lok-sabha-elections Updated: Mar 16, 2019 11:56 IST
Sanjoy Dey
Sanjoy Dey
Hindustan Times, Ranchi
Christians and tribals in Jharkhand were seen as one block of voters — a lot of tribals had once converted to Christianity — but in recent years, tribals have sought to establish their own identity.
Christians and tribals in Jharkhand were seen as one block of voters — a lot of tribals had once converted to Christianity — but in recent years, tribals have sought to establish their own identity.(HT Photo/ Representative photo)
         

Opposition parties in Jharkhand are looking at the Christian vote bank in two Lok Sabha constituencies, Khunti and Lohardaga, that went to the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

Jharkhand Mutki Morcha and the Jharkhand unit of the Congress are of the opinion that the BJP would lose a sizeable chunk of Christian and tribal votes because of the alleged confrontations between the state government and Christian missionaries during the past few years. However, the BJP is hopeful of retaining both seats with support from all sections of society in the name of development and national security.

Traditionally, Christians and tribals in Jharkhand were seen as one block of voters — a lot of tribals had once converted to Christianity — but in recent years, tribals have sought to establish their own identity. The Jharkhand government and Christian missionaries have locked horns on several occasions on many issues, including land law amendment, anti-conversion law, Pathalgadi movement, and an alleged baby-selling incident from a shelter home of Missionary of Charity in Ranchi. Non-Christian tribals have ramped up their demand for a separate Sarna Code, which would give them a separate religious status out of the Hindu umbrella in the upcoming national Census.

The Scheduled Tribe reserved Khunti parliamentary constituency, which comprises six assembly segments — Kharswan, Tamar, Torpa, Khunti, Simdega, and Kolebira — has around 80% Christian and Munda tribal voters.

Similarly, Lohardaga, which is also reserved for Scheduled Tribe, has five assembly seats — Mandar, Sisai, Gumla, Bishunpur, and Lohardaga — and the constituency has roughly 45% Christian and tribal voters.

As per the 2011 Census, the Christian population in Jharkhand is 14,18,608, which is 4.31% of the total population. However, the community has a sizeable population in Simdega district (51.14%), Khunti (25.65%), and Gumla (19.75%).

Jharkhand Congress spokesperson Kishor Nath Shahdeo said, “Christians have not been the BJP’s traditional voters. In 2014, the BJP might have got some share of the votes from this community. But this time, the Christian community will go against the BJP, because of the way it has treated the community in the past three years. The Congress win at the recent Kolebira bypoll is the reflection of the community’s anger against the BJP.” He added, “The BJP-led state government made targeted attacks against Christians and tried to create a division in society, against which we protest.”

JMM spokesperson Supriyo Bhattacharya said, “The BJP itself knows that it wouldn’t get the Christians’ support, as the party’s attitude was vengeful towards the community on several issues. The Khunti constituency is dominated by Munda tribal, besides Christians. Tribals, not only from Khunti but entire Jharkhand, are angry with this BJP government in Jharkhand, as it has looted their lands.”

The BJP alleged that the Congress and JMM were misleading the tribals and Christians. “The BJP’s motto is ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’. We are not against any caste, religion, or community. The misconception of hatred is being spread by the opposition parties, but they will not succeed. We believe Christian voters would offer their full support to the party on issues of development and national security,” said state BJP general secretary Deepak Prakash.

A senior representative of the Christian community said they wanted candidates as well as a government that would treat them with dignity and would not create discrimination. “We do not support any [specific] political party; we want a government that would create peace and harmony. It will not show hatred, a vengeful attitude, and divide people,” said general secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas. He added, “We want that the rights of tribals in Jharkhand are protected and their lands are not taken away. We also want that Sarna tribals be given the Sarna Code, so that they feel protected.”

First Published: Mar 16, 2019 11:56 IST

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