New Delhi: The spree of freebies doled out by the Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy-led Andhra Pradesh government is not only causing a loss of public money, but the schemes are allegedly aimed at encouraging ordinary Andhra citizens to convert. The alleged “conversion drive” in Andhra Pradesh has become a serious issue and, if not prevented, may soon take a violent turn, say experts.
The Opposition in Andhra and right-wing activists have been alleging that ever since Jagan Mohan Reddy has become the Chief Minister of Andhra, he has opened the treasury of the state to the Christian community, with an eye on encouraging conversion activities. Jagan Mohan Reddy and his family are Christians.
Last month, the Jagan government hiked the financial assistance, which was being given to Christian pilgrims going to Jerusalem, from Rs 40,000 to Rs 60,000 for those with an annual income up to Rs 3 lakh. While the assistance money for those earning over Rs 3 lakh per annum has been kept at Rs 30,000, previously, the assistance money for this group was Rs 20,000. Earlier this year in August, Jagan’s government announced that they would provide an honorarium of Rs 5,000 per month to pastors. As per sources, his government is also working to launch housing schemes and financial assistance for the poorer sections of the Christian community.
Chandra Mohan, a BJP leader from Andhra Pradesh, alleged that the freebies given by the Jagan government would give rise to conversion activities in Andhra. “Most of the decisions of the Jagan government are proving to be anti-Hindu and his spree of freebies is nothing but promotional programmes for encouraging conversion. If this is not checked soon, the issue may turn the state into clash zones between the majority and minority communities,” Chandra Mohan added.
The state government’s version was not available to this reporter at the time of going to press. Though The Sunday Guardian tried to contact officials of the minority welfare department, the officials did not reply to queries on the issue raised by this newspaper.
Dr Gautam Sen, who taught at the London School of Economics and Political Science for two decades and keeps a tab on the matter, told The Sunday Guardian: “My sense about Andhra Pradesh is two-fold: the first is the lack of reliable data and some of it suspect, because it is suggesting a decline in the Christian population which is simply untrue. But this is happening in Nepal too, with the census showing decline in the Christian population during the past two decades when anything up to a third have converted, according to a former Prime Minister of Nepal. I think the reason for the anomaly is somewhat similar in both cases though there is usually an additional factor in the Indian case. Converts are told to hide their new faith by the church in order ensure that conversions can proceed by stealth, which is the rationale in both in Nepal and India generally and surely in Andhra Pradesh. In addition, in the Indian situation the reason is fear of loss of reservation privileges still unavailable, in law, to Christian converts though in practice this has not been the case for a very long time.”
As per the 2011 Census, the Christian community in Andhra Pradesh accounts for about 1.4% of the total population; however, the number of followers of the faith is estimated to be higher in the state due to the rising conversion phenomenon.
Sen said: “I am hearing persistent anecdotal evidence of frequent accounts of travellers suggesting conversion of ordinary Andhra citizens to Christianity, despite their Hindu names and no outward signs of their newly acquired Christian faith. My inference is that conversions have occurred on a significant scale in Andhra Pradesh, with the coastal belt now dominated by Christian communities and a majority in some tribes have also converted to this religion. Money and other services are clearly being offered and the Jagan government’s intervention in favour of Christians is fuelling the spate of conversions. Jagan Mohan Reddy has proved to be a stronger evangelist than his father Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy.”
Explaining the consequences of the rising cases of conversion, Sen said: “The other important phenomenon that is being ignored by most people is the scale of ‘church planting’, which has been a common historical practice as a prelude to conversion and the assertion of political authority over Christian communities. In countless Andhra Hindu-dominated villages, churches outnumber temples. I guess that once a critical minimum of Christian population presence is reached in states like Andhra Pradesh, the state will act in ways familiar to the Northeast. Whether a bid will be made for full sovereign status remains a question, but if Tamil Nadu also becomes substantially Christian and the DMK is merely an evangelist front, serious consequences may occur. Also in Telangana, or (even) the number of churches across Bengaluru…”
“Conversion is resulting in serious consequences due to leading Andhra families converting to Christianity, including leading filmmakers of the state joining the bandwagon,” Sen said.
While the religious card is doing well for the Jagan Mohan Reddy government, promises of infrastructure development and policies to drive economic growth have taken a backseat. The Andhra government has canceled many projects during the contract period and this has damaged the confidence of investors.