Bhubaneswar, Nov 20 (IANS) The communal divide in Orissa has deepened with a radical Hindu group calling for a statewide shutdown on Christmas Day and Christians demanding that Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik declare the plan illegal.
A central government team led by central Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar that visited the riot scarred Kandhamal district - the nerve centre of the Hindu-Christian violence in the wake of the murder of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Laxmananda Saraswati - also objected to the proposal.
The Swami Laxmananda Saraswati Sradhanjali Samiti, affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the VHP, said it has given the government time till Dec 15 to nab those who had killed Saraswati and four others in his ashram in Kandhamal Aug 23.
'If the state government does not nab by Dec 15 the culprits who killed Swamiji and four of his aides in Kandhamal there will be no change in our programme,' Samiti leader Laxmikanta Dash told IANS.
Christian leaders have said that the move could exacerbate communal tensions. Led by Bhubaneswar-Cuttack archbishop Raphael Cheenath, church leaders have submitted a memorandum to Patnaik asking that the shutdown be declared illegal.
Patnaik and Pawar, who said he 'failed to understand why the samiti chose Dec 25 for the shutdown', have stated that Kandhamal was still tense.
While police blamed Maoists for the murder of the VHP leader that triggered the communal clashes, local Hindu leaders alleged Christians were behind it and launched systematic attacks against the community.
The violence left at least 38 people dead; thousands of Christian had to flee their homes to escape the rampaging mobs. While some have returned to their homes, more than 10,000 are still living in government-run relief camps in the district.
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