Christians refuse $10 million grant in Meghalaya, Indian state
With provincial elections due in Meghalaya, Catholic leaders are keen to keep their distance from politics
Catholics from northeast India sing and pray in front of Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi on Aug. 17, 2017. (Photo by Bijay Kumar Minj/ucanews.com)
Christian leaders have rejected an offer from India's tourism ministry of a US$10 million grant for the facelift and maintenance of churches in the Christian-majority state of Meghalaya.
Catholic leaders in the state told ucanews.com on Jan. 23 that they will not apply for or accept the funding of 613 million rupees (US$10 million) for illuminations, landscaping, construction of parking lots and toilets among other infrastructure work at 37 churches.
Federal tourism minister K.J. Alphons announced the grant on Jan. 8, just 10 days ahead of India's Election Commission declaring Feb. 27 as the date of provincial elections in the northeastern state.
The minister, a member of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has also announced another 86 million rupees for similar projects involving temples, mosques and important sites for 11 other religious groups including indigenous Khasi, Jaintia and Garo believers.
Catholic support is seen as crucial for an election victory in the state, where Christians account for about 80 percent of the three million people. The BJP holds only two seats in the 60-state house.
Alphons, a churchgoing Catholic from southern Kerala state, was made tourism minister on Sept. 3 last year, and four days later he was named the party's election chief in Meghalaya state.
However, Alphons' allotment ahead of the election has not enthused Christian leaders.
"First of all, we were never consulted on our needs, nor informed about the project. All these days after the announcement, no one from the government had contacted us on this, so there is no question of taking money from the government," Bishop Victor Lyngdoh of Jowai Diocese told ucanews.com on Jan. 23.
Bishop Lyngdoh said the church leadership "cannot take financial help now because it will give the wrong message to our people during this election time. It can create confusion," he said.
Such promises and announcements are nothing new at election time, he said.
"It is very difficult to understand the motive behind their promises, so it is best to keep a distance from politics," said the bishop.
Meghalaya is one of only three Christian-majority states in India after Nagaland and Mizoram. With the clear support of Christians, the BJP leads ruling alliances in Nagaland and Goa, where a third of the population is Christian.
Local media reports said Presbyterians had also refused to accept money as it came without consultation.
"I heard about the scheme from some people but don't know what it is or who will benefit. Let's keep politics away," said Bishop Andrew R. Marak of Tura.
The church's rejection of funds comes as Christian leaders across India express concern about the increasing violence and harassment Christians suffer at the hands of Hindu groups, who consider the BJP as their principal party of support.
Hindu groups have stepped up their push to make India a Hindu-alone nation since the BJP took power, Christian leaders say.