by Nirmala Carvalho
Fr Cedric Prakash, SJ, director of the Prashant Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace in Gujarat, speaks about the prime minister's statement on religious freedom. Leader of a right-wing Hindu nationalist party, Modi said that his "will be a government that gives equal respect to all religions". Yet, he has failed to mention attacks on churches and minorities across the country.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) - "Sooner or later Narendra Modi's bluff will be called," said Fr Cedric Prakash, SJ, director of the Prashant Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace in Gujarat, as he spoke to AsiaNews about the Indian prime minister's recent statement in defence of religious freedom.
Modi's words "surely look good on paper, but many are wondering if he will actually 'walk his talk'," noted the clergyman after the prime minister told a Syro-Malabar gathering in Delhi that his government would give "equal respect to all religions".
"My government," the prime minister said, "will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence. My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly. Mine will be a government that gives equal respect to all religions."
Many in India and around the world have praised Modi's statement. The prime minister, head of the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had been criticised for not speaking out against recent attacks on churches in Deli and for failing to respond to concerns raised by US President Barack Obama over rising religious intolerance in India.
However, Modi "was groomed and nurtured by the right-wing Hindu groups commonly referred to as Sangh Parivar," Fr Prakash said. "He is an integral part of them, shares their ideology and world view. It is they who catapulted him to power."
Sangh Parivar groups (which are close to the ruling BJP) believe in Hindutva, an ideology that advocates the creation the Hindu Rashtra, a country that is 100 per cent Hindu with no place for religious minorities.
In his youth, Modi was a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a paramilitary organisation that is part of the Sangh Parivar.
"At no point in his speech did he condemn or take a position against attacks on Christians and other minorities in India," said the Jesuit clergyman about Modi's words. "If he was serious he would first repeal the draconian and unconstitutional anti-conversion law that he introduced in Gujarat in 2003." At that time, Modi was chief minister in that state.
Speaking to The Times of India, Surendra Jain, joint general secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, another Sangh Parivar group, indirectly confirmed Fr Prakash's analysis.
"The Prime Minister did not say 'minorities' nor did he mention any particular religion," Jain explained. "The news traders are misreading his message to suit their agenda," he added.
Since he did not mention any names, "you have to see in what circumstances" Modi spoke. "The supposed attacks on churches have been going on for a while now but the PM never came out and spoke [about them]. He spoke only after the Delhi Police pointed out that 206 temples were attacked. He spoke on a day a temple was vandalized in the US."