Breaking his months-long silence on a slew of attacks on churches and the shimmering controversy over attempts at religious conversions by Hindu fundamentalists, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has underlined that his government will not allow any religious group belonging to the majority or minority to spread hatred against any group.
“My government 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,” the prime minister said at a function in India’s capital Delhi on February 17 to celebrate the elevation of two members of the church to sainthood.
“We cannot accept violence against any religion on any pretext and I strongly condemn such violence. My government will act strongly in this regard,” he sternly warned the fringe elements who are seeking to advance their parochial agendas.
Mr Modi, who has been accused by opposition and other religious minorities of turning a blind eye to religious bigotry and communal hatred preached by self-proclaimed Hindu nationalists, stressed that his government “gives equal respect to all religions.”
Placing the issue of religious pluralism and tolerance in a global perspective, Mr Modi underlined that the world is increasingly witnessing division and hostility on religious lines and the issue has become a matter of global concern.
In a speech replete with invocations of Mahatma Gandhi and Buddha, the prime minister stressed that equal respect for all religions must be in the DNA of every Indian. He reminded the world of the ancient Indian ethos of mutual respect for all faiths and stressed that is now beginning to be reflected in global discourse.
Adopting a statesman-like vein, Mr Modi stressed that if these parochial tendencies are not checked, it “can throw us back to the dark days of bigotry, fanaticism and bloodshed”.
Days after US President Barack Obama underlined the necessity of religious tolerance during his visit to India and later in a much-quoted speech in the US, the prime minister’s speech echoed similar sentiments as he appealed to all religious groups to act with restraint, mutual respect and tolerance in the true spirit of the ancient nation which is manifest in the Constitution and in line with the Hague Declaration.
In the last few months, there has been a sharp rise in the communal temperature because of the targeting of minorities by Hindutva-related groups. These activities included the attempt by the bigots to glorify Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse as a national hero; running religious conversion campaign initiated by force and inducement called ‘ghar wapsi’ (home-coming); creating suspicion against people of the Islamic faith by organizing the so-called “love jihad”; preaching against family planning by urging Hindu women to have at least four children; and labelling India as Hindu nation to distort the multi-ethnic and multicultural secular fabric of India.
According to political analysts, one of Mr Modi’s many concerns is that Hindutva forces and their communal activities and propaganda are not only creating religious tensions, but are also spoiling the climate for global investment. The targeting of minorities is also cited as a reason for the dismal routing of the ruling BJP in the recent Delhi state elections. With Bihar heading to elections and the opposition trying to forge a secular alliance, the Modi government wants to distance itself from the communal agendas pursued by some fringe elements loosely connected with the BJP.
(Vikas Lather contributed inputs for this article)
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