//Christian woman challenges Hindu activist in polls

Christian woman challenges Hindu activist in polls

RAIPUR, India (UCAN) — A Christian woman challenging a Hindu activist in the upcoming parliamentary election in central India has caught the attention of Church people and the media. The fight will be “the mother of all (political) fights” in Chhattisgarh state, says Father Sebastian Poomattam, a local social activist. On March 27, Renu Jogi filed her papers as a candidate from Bilaspur constituency, only hours after Dilip Singh Judeo, who spearheads a movement to convert Christians to Hinduism, filed his papers.

Judeo is running on the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian people’s party) ticket. The party governs the state.

Jogi, who belongs to the Church of North India (CNI), is the only Christian among candidates of the opposition Congress party. She is a member of the state’s legislative assembly and the wife of the state’s first chief minister, Ajit Jogi.

Voters in Chhattisgarh state will elect 11 members to the 545-seat national parliament. The five-phased national elections are scheduled from April 16 to May 13.

Father Poomattam says Judeo, although “a heavyweight” politician supported by the ruling party, has less of a chance of winning than Renu Jogi does, since she and her husband have great support in Bilaspur.

Most of the 1.4 million voters in the constituency belong to the dalit and other socially poor classes. The dalit, formerly called “untouchables,” are at the bottom of the traditional Indian caste system.

About 95 percent of Chhattisgarh’s 20 million people are Hindus. Christians form less than 1 percent.

“Dainik Bhaskar,” a daily Hindi-language newspaper, says the political fight in Bilaspur has “become a close and interesting contest.”

“The contest is not between Renu and Judeo, but Ajit Jogi and Judeo,” it commented on March 20. “The political fortunes of both families will come to be tested.”

Judeo, 60, resigned as federal Minister of State for Environment and Forests in 2003, after he was caught on camera accepting money in exchange for mining rights in Chhattisgarh.

Ajit Jogi was state chief minister then, and media reports said his son Amit planned the expose to tarnish Judeo, who had been projected as the BJP’s candidate for chief minister if it won the 2003 state election.

After announcing his plan to run for the Bilaspur seat in the coming election, Judeo challenged Renu Jogi in public meetings, telling her to resign from the state legislative assembly to fight him at the polls.

Thomas K. Bose, a social activist and lawyer, predicts Jogi will win because of her and her husband’s “great” local support, though not by “a huge margin.”

The Jogis are known for helping the poor, and they come from the Satnami community, a dominant but socially underprivileged dalit group in the area. Bose expects minority Christians and Muslims will also vote for Jogi because of Judeo’s religious conversion drive. He added that local tribal and low-caste people will not support Judeo, who comes from an aristocratic family that earlier exploited these groups.

Christian leaders say Judeo and Hindu radicals are upset that Christian missions have helped the dalit and tribal people to advance socially. Hindu militants also allege that missioners destabilize society by converting people of other religions to Christianity.

Renu Jogi, a dentist, entered politics during the 2004 parliamentary elections.

April 1, 2009