Indian state to pay for Christians to visit Israel

A south Indian state will subsidise pilgrimage trips for Christians who want to travel to Israel, officials said.

There are about 1.2 million Christians in Andhra Pradesh, representing nearly 2 percent of the state's population. Among them is Y.S. Rajsekhara Reddy, the state's chief minister.

The subsidy is being modelled on that already offered by the central government to Muslims wanting to join the annual haj pilgrimage to Mecca, according to ND Tiwari, the state governor, in announcing the subsidy.

New Delhi even has a special haj air terminal for Muslims, who account for about 13 per cent of India's 1.1 billion population.

Political opponents, including the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, say Reddy's government is pandering to minority communities ahead of state elections next year.

Details of the subsidy are still to be decided, Mohammad Ali Shabbir, the minister for minorities welfare, said on Tuesday.

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