The secretary-general of India’s bishops’ conference has urged prime minister Narendra Modi “to intervene to stop hatred” in the eastern state of Jharkhand.

Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas wrote to Mr Modi after being sent a “frightening, disquieting and scary photo” of protesters burning an effigy of Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, Archbishop of Ranchi.

The bishop said that Raghubar Das, chief minister of Jharkhand and a member of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), must take some responsibility for “spiralling hatred”. The letter said that if such actions were “not controlled immediately”, violence and hate would erupt. Mr Modi is also a member of BJP.

“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,” he said.

In an interview with the Catholic News Service, Bishop Mascarenhas said: “We have a chief minister who is openly sowing seeds of hatred and destroying the social harmony. This is not acceptable. We trust the prime minister to stop this.”

Street protests led by Hindu nationalist groups against Cardinal Toppo, India’s first cardinal from an indigenous community, followed his criticism of legislation passed by the Jharkhand Legislative Assembly, which the BJP controls.

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