Despite protests by Christian clergy and other organisations, the Karnataka government has managed to get Governor Thawarchand Gehlot’s nod to the controversial ordinance banning religious conversions on Tuesday.
The Christian community in Karnataka feels that lack of political representation at every level (gram panchayat to Parliament) has made them vulnerable and they are being forced to seek help from other communities to protect their religious and political interests.
According to the 2011 Census data, Christian population in the state is a mere 2%.
But some community leaders admit their population is easily 4%, as the newly converted don’t reveal their religion to avail reservation benefits and other things.
Christians have been voting mainly for the Congress since Independence and the party treats them like its permanent vote bank. However, Christian representation in law and decision-making bodies is declining at an alarming rate.
Currently, the Karnataka Assembly has only one Christian MLA, KJ George of the Congress. There are no MPs and MLCs. Karnataka Assembly has one nominated MLA for the Anglo Indians, including whom there are only two Christian lawmakers in the state.
Karnataka is electing four Rajya Sabha members and seven MLCs in June. The Congress can send one member to the Rajya Sabha and two to the Upper House of the state legislature.
Christian leaders have been demanding that at least one seat should be given to them, as they don’t get tickets to contest direct elections. One of the two Rajya Sabha seats was held by Oscar Fernandes, who died last year.
“The Congress does not give us tickets to contest in direct elections on the grounds that we can’t win. They ignore us whenever there are vacancies in indirect elections. At this rate, we will soon be without even one MLA in the state,” said a Christian leader of the Congress, who did not wish to be identified.
MUSLIMS GET BENEFITS
Christians have to fight a two-way battle to get something in politics. Among the minorities, Muslims top in population, grabbing most of the things meant for all minorities, allege some Christian community leaders. They also feel that Hindu leaders in the Congress prefer their own, keeping local political situation in mind.
“There is a misconception that minorities mean only Muslims. No one bothers about other minorities in the state namely Christians, Jains, Sikhs, Parsi, Jews, etc. Because of their numerical strength, Muslims grab most political positions. We, the Christians, get almost nothing. Be it MLA, MLC, MP, nomination to government boards or corporations, we are always taken for granted,” said another leader of the community.
“We are in large numbers in at least four-five Assembly seats in Karnataka. But getting even one or two tickets from the Congress is a herculean task. For example, Christian population is high in Shanthinagara Assembly seat in Bengaluru. But the Congress MLA is a Muslim. We have a sizable votes even in Shivajinagara Assembly and Bengaluru Central Lok Sabha seats,” he added.
“Earlier, the church used to take up our pleas with the Congress high command. Now they have stopped as they don’t even get an acknowledgement. The church leaders ask us to vote for whoever we want, saying the Congress has no monopoly over us. Some younger ones are now looking at parties like Aam Aadmi Party,” said another Congress leader from the Christian community.
IN THE PAST
Till early 2000, Christians had a major say in Karnataka Congress and have held important positions including state Congress president and Union Ministers. A Roman Catholic Oscar Fernandes was a nine-time MP, KPCC president, powerful AICC general secretary and a Union Minister.
Margaret Alva was a five-time MP, Union Minister and a Governor. Before them, the Congress had other leaders like Joachim Alva, Violet Alva, Lobo Prabhu, Winifred Fernandes and Blasius D’souza.
The late George Fernandes was the only top Christian leader who always opposed the Congress. A Mangalorean Kannadiga, George Fernandes could not win from his home state and won 10 Parliament elections from Maharashtra and Bihar.
His younger brothers, Michael and Lawrence, were active in anti-Congress politics in Karnataka. Michael was a Janata Party MLA and Lawrence a Mayor of Bengaluru.
Karnataka Congress top leaders Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar, meanwhile, still maintain the party will look at everybody’s interests, including that of Christians.