Modi-Pope meeting an attempt to divert attention from int’l criticism of BJP govt’s anti-minority policies

ISLAMABAD, Nov 2 (APP): With the reported at least 305 incidents of violence against Christians in India in first nine months of 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent meeting with Pope Francis in Rome alongside G20 Summit seemed an attempt to divert attention from international criticism of anti-minority policies of RSS-inspired BJP government against Christian minority.

According to recently published report ‘Christians under Attack in India’ by Association for the Protection of Civil Rights records, there have been at least 305 incidents of violence against Christians in the first nine months of 2021, but only 30 FIRs (First Information Report) have been registered so far in these cases.

The report mentioned that the month of September alone recorded 69 such incidents, followed by 50 in August, 37 in January, 33 in July, 27 each in March, April, and June, 20 in February and 15 in May.

In the given scenario, political analysts viewed, Modi-Pope meeting has been something out of the ordinary as previous calls for peace and dialogue by the Pope have never appealed to Modi.

As the Indian Prime Minister met Pope Francis in Rome for the first time on 30 Oct 2021 alongside G20 summit, with the aim to strengthen BJP’s vote bank amongst Christian population in India, Pope called on Modi to step up efforts to crack down on religious intolerance.

The analysts believed that Pope Francis would not let Modi win in his diplomatic maneuvering to distract international community/ Vatican church’s attention from systematic demonization, dispossession and marginalization of Chrsitain minority in India.

According to analysts, Modi’s meeting with Pope Francis in view of the rampant targeted hate and violence against religious minorities in India was an attempt to improve his international image.

Sudden love and passion to meet Pope Francis was part of Modi’s maneuvering to avoid any calls from G-20 members on the pretext of violations against Christians in India, analysts remarked.

The analysts believed that BJP strategists have planned this Modi-Francis summit on the sidelines of G-20 Summit to seek Vatican Church’s help to retain power in the state of Goa, which goes to the polls early next year.

It is worth mentioning that with a 500-year Catholic tradition, Goa has about 25 percent Christians of its population and their votes are vital for any party seeking political power in the state.

With India’s rights and freedom of faith ranking has been among the lowest since its Independence in 1947, the analysts remarked it was highly hypocritical of a country that is purveyor of state-sponsored discrimination against its minorities to preach on the issue of minority rights elsewhere.

As incidents against minorities in India take place with state complicity, the analysts stressed that India should seriously introspect its entrenched anti-minority mindset being destructively spawned by the RSS-BJP regime and discard state-sponsored discriminatory policies.

India must ensure safety, protection and well-being of the minorities, including Muslims and take effective steps for the protection of their places of worship, culture and heritage sites, they added.

The analysts further remarked that “Nehruvian secularism is dead, replaced by a muscular Hindutva that seeks to push India’s minorities to the margins.”

Since Modi/ Hindu nationalist Bharatya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014, levels of discrimination and violence against religious minorities in India have increased manifold.

The NGO Persecution Relief reported 527 incidents of persecution against Christians in its 2019 annual report, compared with 477 in 2018. Uttar Pradesh reported the highest number i.e. 109 followed by 75 in Tamil Nadu and 32 in Karnataka.

On October 3, more than 200 unidentified men and women, allegedly belonging to local right-wing groups, vandalized a church in Roorkee, Uttarakhand and attacked several people including women who assembled there for prayers on a Sun. No action has been taken in the case yet, despite assurances.

The series of attacks in Chhattisgarh have been ongoing since the beginning of the year. “In some villages, Christian churches have been vandalized, in others pastors have been beaten or abused.

Congregations have been broken up by mobs and believers hospitalised with injuries. The police, too, stand accused of making threats to Christians, hauling them into police stations and carrying out raids on Sunday prayer services.”

In 2020, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom listed India as a “country of particular concern” for the first time since 2004.

Christians face persecution from Hindu nationalist groups under the pretext that Christians are seeking to forcibly convert Hindus.

However, Christian community in Chhattisgarh, which according to the last census numbers about 500,000, denies all charges of seeking to convert to Hindus as false.

Under Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), discrimination and violence toward people of other religions has risen.

While Muslims, who make up around 14% of the population, have borne the brunt, Christians, who account for just over 2%, have also reported a rise in reported violent attacks.

The Christian NGO Persecution Relief documented 293 instances of attacks or harassment of Christians in the country in the first half of the year, despite the widespread pandemic lockdown, including six rapes and eight murders.

In its annual report, the NGO Alliance for Defense of Freedom (ADF) documented 279 instances of violence against Christians during the year, with Uttar Pradesh State reporting 70 incidents and Chhattisgarh State 66.

US commission on religious freedom in India recommended for the second year in a row that India be placed on a blacklist for religious freedom.

In his seven years in office, Modi has stubbornly refused to invite the head of the global Catholic Church to India, home to almost 30 million Christians, about 60 per cent of whom are Catholics.

In early 2021, another formal request was made for a meeting involving the cardinals brokered by a high government official and the ruling party but could not materialize because Modi seemed in no hurry.

On 7 February 2017, three Indian cardinals including Cardinal Oswald Gracias, met Modi in New Delhi to discuss the possibility of a papal visit. The government did not clear the visit.

Archbishop emeritus of Guwahati, Thomas Menamparampil, has recently described the Hindu nationalist or Hindutva movement as a vicious form of nationalism.

In the online magazine ‘Indian Currents’, he wrote, “Hindutva and BJP along with powerful businessmen have developed the art of using religious and cultural symbols to mobilize crowds to win elections.