Amid political uncertainty in Punjab, a new party called the United Punjab Party has emerged as the bypoll for the Jalandhar Lok Sabha seat approaches. Many churches have joined forces in this initiative as the region has a significant population of Dalits.
Pentecostal Christian Community Parbandhak Committee recently launched the state's first political party for Christians, with the support of other church denominations.
The United Punjab Party's emergence is notable not only because it may attract the substantial Dalit Christian vote, but also amid fears of religious polarisation following the Amritpal Singh incident.
The Pentecostal parbandhak committee, established in 2019, was formally launched in November 2021. Its goal is to promote discipline within churches, tackle Christian community problems, and spread the Christian faith.
The committee currently has approximately 1,550 members on its rolls, consisting entirely of pastors and priests from various churches in the state. Although several church officials attend its meetings.
The Pentecostal Open Door Church serves as the committee's headquarters in Khojewala village, Kapurthala. Harpreet Singh Deol, its chairman, is also the head of the church. Meanwhile, the United Punjab Party announced the appointment of Albert Dua, a senior member of the Catholic Church and former two-time president of Catholic Church, Sarabha Nagar, Ludhiana, as its new president.
At the announcement of the political outfit, various church representatives, including the Roman Catholic Church and Church of North India, were present. According to Pastor Deol, they were in agreement on the matter.
There are six major denominations in the state which churches largely owe their allegiance to. These include the Roman Catholic, Church of North India, Methodist Church, Salvation Army, Seventh Day Adventist, and Pentecostal denominations.
Although other denominations are involved in education and health care through their respective schools and hospitals, the main objective of the Pentecostal churches is to spread Christianity, often attracting accusations of being involved in forcible conversions. The Pentecostal Church has a significant number of followers among the Jat, Khatri/Arora, and Bania communities, as well as the Dalits.
Although the 2011 Census indicated that Christians comprised only 1.5 per cent of the state's population, it is assumed that this figure has increased significantly, particularly among those who have not undergone formal initiation into Christianity.
Dua claims that despite Census records, Christianity has a following of around 15 per cent in the state, with attendance at his congregation from different religions.
A Catholic Church representative explained, reports The Indian Express, that Dalits avoid formally identifying as Christians to retain caste status and reservation benefits.
“Today our youths have no jobs, they are leaving Punjab, huge money is going abroad in the form of migration, there is a drug problem… We want to give quality life to every Punjabi,” says Dua, adding: “We want to walk among the people like a common man, not a VIP.”
Santokh Singh Chaudhary of Congress emerged victorious in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, winning Jalandhar by a margin of almost 20,000 votes over Charanjit Singh Atwal, the joint Akali Dal-BJP candidate.
Historically, the Congress has had unwavering support from Christians in the state.
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