Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, in his Mann Ki Baat address on September 29, shared something very pleasing to the Catholic community in India. He said that canonization of Mariam Thresia is a matter of pride. “It is a matter of pride for every Indian that, on the coming October 13, his holiness Pope Francis will declare Sister Mariam Thresia a saint. I pay heartfelt tributes to Sister Mariam Thresia and congratulate the citizens of India, and especially our Christian brothers and sisters, for this achievement.” It is rumoured that Pope Francis may be invited to visit India. These are, indeed, signs of an image building exercise from the part of the BJP government that has been accused of tolerating or even encouraging atrocities on minorities in India by the state, non-state actors.
According to Human Rights Watch 2019, India ranks as the 10th most dangerous country. The government often failed to prevent or credibly investigate growing mob attacks on religious minorities, marginalized communities and critics of the government. Some senior BJP leaders publicly supported the perpetrators such crimes.
The Prime Minister of India, irrespective of the party to which he belongs, is the Prime Minister of all Indians: Hindus, Muslims, Christians etc. When the Prime Minister appreciates and congratulates the Christian community for the achievement of one of its members, naturally the Christians in India feel happy. At the same time, the followers of Jesus have to be aware of the warning given by Jesus. “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mt. 10:16). Understanding the ideology of the political parties beyond their appeasement strategies is, indeed, part of being shrewd as a serpent.
The political parties that rule the country from time to time have their ideology and they try to realize their ideology through the exercise of political power. The citizens of India, including Christians, have a grave responsibility to understand the ideology of different political parties. It is part and parcel of their responsibility as citizens of India. Otherwise they will be trapped. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which is created as the political wing of Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), shares the same ideology of RSS. In fact, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh and its later version, the BJP, was formed by the RSS to realize its vision of transforming India into a Hindu Rashtra.
The increased attacks on the Muslims and Christians, including mob lynching and focus on Ghar Vapsi, reconversion of Christians and Muslims to Hinduism since 2014 are to be viewed from the perspective of the Hindutva, the ideology of RSS-BJP.
The socio-political changes that have taken place in India after the BJP under the leadership of Shri Narendra Modi came to power at the Centre in 2014 and many omissions and commissions of the BJP government vindicate that the Indian Constitution is under threat. The way the article 370 and article 35 A of the Indian Constitution were abrogated within 24 hours and bifurcated the Jammu and Kashmir State into two Union Territories is a proof of the scant regard the BJP Government has for democratic process. Hundreds of political leaders, including three former Chief Ministers, have been under detention; the region has been under communication lockdown and 8 million people in Kashmir have been living under curfew like situation since August 5. According to an article published in Outlook magazine September 2 issue, Kashmir is “the most militarized zone in the world.”
The Christians are primarily the citizens of India. What they need more than anything else from the government a guarantee to protect their fundamental rights, especially the right to life and liberty. They need an assurance from the Prime Minister that the basic structure of the Indian constitution will not be tampered with and the secular nature of our constitution will be safeguarded. They need an assurance from the Prime Minister that no citizen will be discriminated on the basis of his/her religion caste, gender or economic status and will be treated equally before the law.
The Christians in India do not want any special favour other than what is guaranteed in the constitution of India. Like a serpent the Christians should be shrewd enough to assess the strategies of the RSS. The BJP that had only 2 seats in the Lok Sabha in 1984 could increase its seats up to 303 in 2019 because of the various strategies it adopted, including fomenting communal riots. The BJP’s next target is to expand its political footprint in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. As long as the Muslims and Christians, two prominent minority communities stand together, it will be difficult for the BJP to capture political power in Kerala. They constitute 44.94% (Muslims- 26.56% and Christians- 18.38%) of Kerala population, according to 2011census. Hence the strategy of BJP seems to be winning over the support of Christians by creating conflict and misunderstanding between the Christians and Muslims on the one hand, and by offering some sops to the Christians on the other hand.
The letter by George Kurian, the Vice-Chairman of the National Commission for Minorities, to the Home Minister on September 23 is to be seen from the perspective of creating misunderstanding between the Muslims and Christians. In his letter, George Kurian wrote: "The spate of organised religious conversions and using the victims for terror activities by trapping them through 'love jihad' has shown that the Christian community is a soft target for Islamic radicals." He warned that the issue is serious as it could lead to "communal disharmony" in the state. He urged the home minister to order a National Investigation Agency probe in the matter. George Kurian is being used by the vested interests to create communal disharmony among the Muslims and Christians in India, especially in Kerala.
The importance given to the Canonization of Sister Mariam Thresia by the BJP government is also to be seen from this political angle. The leaders of the Christian community are to be vigilant against the appeasement traps to be used by the RSS-BJP combine. The Church in India has to stand for truth and justice rather than protecting its narrow interests. The Church has often failed to raise its voice when injustice was perpetrated on innocent people. The Church has to make clear its stand on the violation of the personal freedoms of the people of Kashmir who are under communication lockdown since August 5. Similarly, it has to declare its stand on the 1.9 million people of Assam who are excluded from the National Register of Citizens.
(Published on 14th October 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 42)