Hindu nationalists are pictured in a recent photo burning an effigy of Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi, India. (CNS)
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THRISSUR, India (CNS) -- The secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi "to intervene to stop hatred" in the eastern state of Jharkhand.
Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas charged in a letter to Modi that "spiraling hatred" was being perpetuated by Raghubar Das, chief minister of Jharkhand and a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is known for pursuing a Hindu nationalist legislative agenda.
Released Sept. 13, the letter said if such actions were "not controlled immediately," violence and hate would erupt.
Modi also is a member of BJP.
Bishop Mascarenhas wrote that he was prompted to act because of "a frightening, disquieting and scary photo" a Catholic youth sent him showing the burning of an effigy of Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi and the head of the Catholic Church in Jharkhand.
"Perhaps those leading this ideological hatred targeting the Christian community do not know what they are doing, where they are leading the people to: on the road of hatred and division," the letter said.
In an interview with Catholic News Service, Bishop Mascarenhas repeated his concerns.
"We have a chief minister who is openly sowing seeds of hatred and destroying the social harmony. This is not acceptable," Bishop Mascarenhas said Sept. 14.
"We trust the prime minister to stop this," added the bishop, who served as auxiliary bishop of Ranchi before he was named secretary-general in early 2016.
Street protests led by Hindu nationalist groups against Cardinal Toppo, India's first cardinal from an indigenous community, follow his recent criticism of legislation passed by the Jharkhand Legislative Assembly, which the BJP controls.
The church opposed in particular an amendment to the Land Acquisition Act, which weakened restrictions on the purchase of indigenous land for industrial mining and other projects, and a bill affecting religious freedom that were rushed through in the assembly in August.
Bishop Mascarenhas cited full page newspaper advertisements placed by Das that carried a "spurious quote" along with a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi to vilify the Christian community, accusing missionaries of converting poor and indigenous people.
Quoting Modi's Aug. 15 Independence Day address in which he said "in the name of faith, violence cannot be allowed," Bishop Mascarenhas reminded the prime minister that Das and his advisers "in the past few months have not shown affiliation to the ideology you are proclaiming."
"History shows us that hatred which begins as a tiny spark can engulf into an unstoppable fire. As you know the burning of effigies can very well turn into physical violence," the letter cautioned.
Christians, most of them Catholics, account for less than 5 percent of Jharkhand's 27 million people. More than a quarter of the population in the state are indigenous people.