Sonia Gandhi warns Gujarat Govt.

The Hindu
January 9, 1999, Pg 01, Col: e

By Our Special Correspondent

SURAT, January 8

The Congress(I) President, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, today warned the BJP Ministry in Gujarat that her party will be forced to demand its dismissal and imposition of President's Rule if the administration failed to stop the attacks on Christians in the south Gujarat district of Dangs.

In a brief chat with mediapersons at the Deepdarshan school and later at the helipad in Ahwa during her visit to the strife-torn tribal-dominated district in south Gujarat, Mrs. Gandhi said she had reason to believe that the attackers enjoyed the "blessings'' of the Keshubhai Patel ministry.

Mrs. Gandhi said the Christians in the south Gujarat districts were feeling "extreme fear and tension'' in view of the continuing attacks against the minorities "with the blessings of the BJP Government.'' She refuted the Sangh Parivar's allegations against the minority community and claimed that to the best of her knowledge there was no forcible conversion in any part of the country in the last 30 years or so.

Asked whether she would take up the Dangs situation with the President, Mr. K. R. Narayanan, Mrs. Gandhi said her party had already apprised the President about the situation and conveyed the concern of the minorities in Dangs and some other parts of the country which were under the BJP dispensation.

Mrs. Gandhi met Christian delegations from Surat, Bulsar, Dangs and the neighbouring districts and discussed with them in detail the prevailing situation in south Gujarat. The State co-ordinator of the United Christians Forum for Human Rights, Father Cedric Prakash, told her that the attack on the Christians was "systematic and orchestrated'' and due to the BJP's "frustration'' over the loss of the tribal vote bank over the years. They also alleged that the Government had failed to protect the lives and property of the minorities and book the miscreants. She was also presented with some documentary evidence to establish that the Hindu Jagran Manch, which allegedly initiated the disturbances in Dangs district, was a branch of the RSS.

Mrs. Gandhi was greeted by the local people when she flew into Ahwa, the district headquarters, by helicopter this afternoon. She was scheduled to stay only about 30 minutes in Dangs but instead stayed over three hours to visit some of the affected areas and talk to hundreds of people.

Immediately after her arrival in this hilly district, Mrs. Gandhi visited the Deepdarshan school and its hostel at Ahwa, which was one of the main target of attacks by the Hindu militants on Christmas Day. She told the affected people and the school students that her party would do everything possible as the opposition party to protect the lives and property of the minorities and to restore peace and normalcy.

Mrs.Gandhi motored down to Subir, the second biggest village in the district about 35 km away, where a missionary school, a prayer hall and the residence of a Christian priest was attacked and a jeep and a motorcycle were set afire.

The local leaders of the Sangh Parivar, however, criticised Mrs. Gandhi's visit claiming that she was there only to cash in on the people's misery. They said Mrs. Gandhi preferred to meet only the Christian delegations ignoring the Hindus who also suffered during the disturbances. While she visited some of the affected Christian institutions, she did not bother to visit the temples defaced by the Christians earlier, they alleged.