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Orissa Leader Seeks to Repair Image amid Anti-Christian Violence

After facing humiliation for being unable to curb the violence on Christians in the Indian state of Orissa, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has decided to atone his governance by announcing his "secular" credentials and promising security to all religious communities in the state.

In his party's manifesto, the BJD chief assured protection to all communities and further said he will give special attention to the advancement of education, health, economy and culture of minorities.

The 40-page manifesto, released on Friday, was captioned "Each bone of my body is secular."

The booklet, which aims to appease minorities, listed the various contributions he claimed he made such as: grant-in-aid to all schools, colleges and health centers run by Christian organizations; and grants for repairing and reconstructing all religious institutions like churches, temples and mosques damaged during communal riots.

The politician had recently blamed saffron parties for the violence against Christians in Kandhamal and further snapped ties with its 11-year-old coalition partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Meanwhile, John Dayal, a Christian leader and member of National Integration Council, allowed Patnaik no excuse and denounced him for the violence.

"The ghost of Kandhamal will always haunt him. Secularism is not in the bones, it is in the action," Dayal told The Indian Express.

Attacks against Christians began last August after the assassination of a Hindu fundamentalist leader in Orissa. His followers accused Christians of being the masterminds behind the murder and maintained this position despite a public statement by Maoist rebels claiming responsibility for the Hindu leader's death.

Indian Christian leaders have charged Hindu fundamentalists of using the swami's death as an excuse to attack Christians.

Patnaik had earlier confirmed that an estimated 10,000 people have been named in 746 cases lodged during the 2008 Kandhamal violence. Of the accused, 598 have been put behind bars and police have begun a full-fledged investigation on all the cases, he said.

The current anti–Christian campaign is said to be the worst in the 60 years of India's independence. The violence has left 50,000 Christians displaced and over 4,000 Christian homes, churches and businesses destroyed.

The state of Orissa houses some 36.8 million inhabitants, among whom are 8 million tribals and 6 million dalits or untouchables. Around 2.3 percent of the population are Christians, half of whom are Roman Catholics. In the Kandhamal district, around 20 percent of the population are Christians.

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