Ministers meet bishop to woo Christians

Tirunelveli Jan. 25 . In a bid to assuage the ruffled feelings of Christians after the enactment of the anti-conversion law and in view of the February 26 Assembly byelection in Sattankulam, where the community forms a significant vote-bank, S. Semmalai, Minister for Health, called on S. Jayapaul David, CSI bishop, Tirunelveli, at his official residence at Palayamkottai.

Though the meeting was described only as a ``courtesy call'' by Mr. Semmalai — who was accompanied by the Minister for Tourism, A. Miller; and the Minister for Housing, Anita R. Radhakrishnan, and the MP, S. Murugesan — AIADMK sources said he had, on the advice of the high command, met the bishop and sought his support in the byelection. `

`As the constituency comprises a considerable number of Christian Nadar voters, we have roped in Mr. Miller in the exercise of getting the bishop's support,'' said a councillor, who accompanied the Ministers. The bishop, who was conducting a conference on humanism, in association with the RC Church and Muslims, in the wake of the enactment of the anti-conversion legislation, had to rush to his residence to meet the Ministers, though some of the priests made a vain bid to stop him meeting representatives of the Government which ``imposed a law against the welfare of the minorities''.

When presspersons were allowed inside the hall where the `rapprochement meeting' was held, Vaikundarajan, owner of a garnet export company, declared that the Ministers had sought the bishop's support and he responded positively.

After the first round of discussions with the Ministers, the bishop said: ``As per the Government Order 525, some of our teachers were transferred as they were found to be in excess, going by the 1:40 teacher-student ratio and their salary has been held back for the past four months. Now, after the intervention of the Ministers and the Chief Minister, the teachers are about to get their pay. And, I took this opportunity to thank the Ministers and the Chief Minister''.

Mr. Semmalai and his colleagues, after having lunch with the bishop, said the meeting had nothing to do with the byelection.

``We just discussed the welfare of the teachers who have been transferred to various districts after the implementation of the GO by the then DMK regime in 1997. Efforts will be made to bring back the teachers to their home districts in a phased manner and they will be getting their salaries soon,'' Mr. Semmalai said.

After the meeting with the Ministers, Rev. Jayapaul David, did not return to the conference even when resolutions were adopted.