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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 1 January 6, 2024

Modi’s Attempt to Woo Christian Community | Ram Puniyani

Friday 5 January 2024, by Ram Puniyani


On 25th December, Prime Minister Mr. Narnedra Modi invited many Christians for an interaction and to greet them. He lauded the community for their social work [1] and hailed the inclusive teachings of Lord Jesus Christ. Also recalling his long association with the community leaders. A couple of days later in Kerala nearly two hundred Christians joined the BJP. The Hindu reports, “A meeting of the BJP State leadership in Kottayam here on Monday decided to launch a 10-day-long Sneha Yathra, which seeks to win over the community by explaining its position on [2] various issues, including the Manipur violence.” At the same time, Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan was on the dot when he stated that, “ Things have reached such a pass in Manipur that a section of people…Christian community cannot live…We have seen the state Government and Central Government maintaining silence.” (I E Jan 2nd 2024, Mumbai)

As the next General elections are approaching the RSS-BJP have activated their attempts to woo the Christian community. As such the present plight of Christian community is reflected in various national-international reports and indices of religious freedom. Two incidents of persecution take place every day as per Vada Na Todo Abhiyan (Don’t break your promise, Campaign). In UP "…100 pastors and even ordinary men and women, are in jail under charges of illegal [3] conversions when all they were doing was celebrating birthdays or conducting Sunday prayers."

Government is also investigating agencies against Cardinal and Pastors as per the memorandum cited above. As per United Christian Forum 302 attacks took place [4] against Christians in the first seven months of 2022. A petition filed by Archbishop Peter Machado, National Solidarity Forum and Evangelical Fellowship of India states that “state has failed to take immediate and necessary action against groups that have caused widespread violence and [5] used hate speech against the Christian community, including attacks at their places of worship and disruption of prayer meetings.”

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has for the fourth consecutive year declared India as a country of particular concern [6] religions, but in reality, they are often used as an excuse to harass and intimidate Christians…Being a pastor is one of the riskiest vocations in the country today. Hindu extremists target them with violent attacks to sow fear in the wider Christian community.”

The present plight of Christian community is rooted in the Hindu Nationalist discourse where Islam and Christianity are regarded as foreign religions. RSS’s second Sarsanghchalak, M.S. Golwalkar in his book Bunch of Through states that Muslims, Christians and [7] Communists are an internal threat to Hindu nation.

The RSS propaganda in Shakhas is conducted on these lines. With the increase in intensity of Hindu nationalist activities the anti Christian violence began in the Adivasi areas to begin with. The propaganda was that Christian missionaries are doing conversion through force fraud and allurement. As such Christianity is one of the oldest religions of India. One account says that it began with St Thomas arriving on Malabar Coast and setting up a Church in AD 52. Other accounts date it to somewhere in 4th Century AD. Today the percentage of Christians in India, as per the population census is 2.3% (2011). Interestingly there is constant drop in this from 1971 data, 1971- 2.60%, 1981-2.44%. 1991-2.34%, 2001- 2.30%, 1911-2.30% (Population census figures.)

The constant propaganda on these lines led to rise in anti Christian violence manifesting in Dangs (Gujarat, December 25 1998 to January 3, 1999). This was followed by the most ghastly burning alive of Pastor Graham Stains on the night of 22nd January 1999 by RSS affiliate Bajrang Dal’s activist Rajendra Pal aka Dara Singh , who is currently undergoing life term. This act was described by the then President of India Dr. K.R. Narayanan is the one belonging to the “World’s inventory of black deeds”. Stains was an Australian missionary working in Keonjhar, Manoharpur, Orissa. When he was sleeping in the open jeep with his two sons Timothy and Philip, Dara Singh mobilized people to burn him, the charge was that in the garb of work for Leprosy patients, he was doing the conversion work.

The Wadhva Commission formed in the aftermath concluded that Pastor Stains was not involved in the work of conversions and that there was no [8] increase in the population of Christians in the area where he was working. The incidents of anti Christian violence continued in remote areas mostly around Christmas time. The violence which flared up in Kandhamal in August 25, 2008 was the most horrific and led to the killings of over 100 Christians, many acts of heinous rape and many Churches were burnt.

The anti Christian violence is a low radar activity where the priests working in remote areas are apprehended when they are conducting the prayer meetings in particular. The Bajrang Dal and its clones obstruct these meetings and many of the priests are arrested and harassed.

One such act of prolonged violence is currently going on in Manipur for the last seven months. The Kukis, who are predominantly Christians, are under the hammer with double Engine Sarkar, I Manipur and Center both it is BJP Government. The Prime Minister clearly indicated that controlling this ongoing anti Christian violence is not among his priorities. He has been travelling all over but no time for Manipur. The social activists and brave journalists have made some efforts to visit the area and douse the fire, but with an apathetic Government such deep cleavages cannot be repaired.

The present effort of Prime Minister Modi is primarily aimed at image creation optics for electoral gains. In Kerala many affluent Christians are being lured by this Hindu majoritarian politics. Surely some of the top Religious leadership is also tempted to associate with the present regime to save their skin from the pangs of ED-IT etc.

We need to realize the strategy being employed by Modi and company to on one hand marginalize the Christian community and on the other to woo them for electoral benefits.

(Author: Ram Puniyani is a prominent commentator on Communal politics and its perils in India. |

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