Glare on Christmas bandh in Orissa

Bhubaneswar, Nov. 19: Observing that the situation in Kandhamal is still tense, the team of central ministers today advised the Naveen Patnaik government to take steps to ensure that there is no Orissa bandh called by Hindu outfits on Christmas.

Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar leading a three-member minister team said they were told that recently a rally was held here issuing a threat to observe Orissa bandh on Christmas, if the culprits involved in the murder of VHP leader Swami Laxmananda Saraswati were not arrested within a month.

We don’t understand why the Christmas was chosen for calling the bandh, said Pawar adding agitation should not be allowed on major festival days like Diwali, Christmas and Chhath.

Stating that the minority community is under tremendous pressure because of such threat, Pawar said they had requested Naveen to see that agitation activities should not be there on Christmas.

Simultaneously, the police should gear up investigation to book the culprits involved in the murder, he said. We also requested the chief minister to give a sort of confidence to all sections, including the minority community, that their life and property will be protected in such situation, said Pawar.

The central team leader said they observed during their visit to Kandhamal yesterday that the situation was tense and there was sense of fear among the minority community. Responding to a query as to whether the state government had handled the Kandhamal situation satisfactorily, Pawar said: We are not here to pass comments on the state government’s performance. But the need of the hour is to restore normalcy in the riot-affected villages. Some efforts are going on in this regard.

The central team had earlier met a delegation of Christian leaders led by Raphael Cheenath, the archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar diocese, in the morning before attending the wrap-up meeting with the chief minister and government officials.

Calling for a bandh on Christmas is aimed at creating communal divide and affecting law and order situation. The Christian community might be subjected to ferocious attacks,  apprehended one of the delegation members.

They urged for appropriate steps to ensure that the Christian community could celebrate Christmas without any fear, declaring the bandh as illegal besides providing adequate protection to the minority community, their places of worship and other institutions.

Naveen said: There should not be any bandh on Christmas. Normalcy has returned in Kandhamal, but bandh on Christmas may lead to future disturbance.

Before concluding their three-day visit, the team suggested the state government to set up peace committees at villages and gram panchayats in order to hasten the process of restoration of normalcy, taking up labour intensive work in every affected villages, ensuring retention of name of those people in Kandhamal who are away from home on the voter list, strengthening of public distribution system and setting up of trauma centres, disability camps and old-age homes.

Pawar indicated that their team might offer a proposal for a special package for Kandhamal, Gajapati and Boudh districts.



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