Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has rescued a Catholic priest and another Catholic aid-worker from the clutches of death in Afghanistan. Yet the church, at the ground level, is working to create a strong anti-Modi hysteria among its followers.
While the Prime Minister has shown complete respect to all faiths in a typical display of Indic secularism, the proselytising forces do not take these gestures as actions reflecting goodwill.
It is time the party directly addresses the Christian population and conveys the message of true secularism rather than placating the forces that have vested interest in retaining the control over the believers.
Barely months after the BJP won the parliamentary elections in June 2014, cardinal George Alencherry of India was speaking at a conference organised by ‘Oasis International Foundation’ in Sarajevo. In his address titled ‘Non-Violence Vs. Fundamentalism in Contemporary India’, the archbishop of Syro-Malabar Church in Ernakulam, Kerala, spoke of “the vicious nature of Hindu fundamentalism”, never bothering to mention, even in passing, the virulent proselytising activities aggressively pursued by churches across India. He accused BJP legislators and the Sangh Parivar of inciting violence against Christians and Muslims.
This address set the tone for how the Church should position itself against the BJP rule. Unsubstantiated reports of attacks on churches started pouring in soon after the new government took office. Electric short-circuits and children accidentally breaking window pane of a church were trumpeted as attacks by Hindu nationalists. Delhi police chief had to clarify these facts after the fictional fear mongering unleashed by the clergy.
Against the backdrop of such malicious campaigns, the Modi government did not indulge in any discriminating acts against the Christian community and acted proactively to help Indian citizens in distress abroad – in some cases those rescued were Christians.
In February 2015, even as John Dayal, the journalist-turned-Christian-crusader, was spewing venom against the Modi government at every forum available to him, John Joseph, the brother of Alexis Prem Kumar, a Jesuit priest abducted by Islamists in Afghanistan, received a call from Prime Minister Modi, informing him that the government had secured the release of his brother from his abductors. “This is because of our Prime Minister. He saved me.”
Another Jesuit missionary, Joy Karayampuram, spokesman of the Jesuit Refugee Service in New Delhi, also expressed his gratitude:
“Thanks to PM Modi, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.”
Interestingly, the Catholic News Service completely downplayed Prime Minister Modi’s personal intervention, as well as the many steps taken by various government agencies to ensure their safe return. Except a very informal thanks expressed by the Catholic Bishop Conference of India (CBCI), the apex body, there was no mention of effort undertaken by the government of India. Titled ‘God has saved me, says Jesuit priest released by Taliban’ (Catholic Herald, 23 February 2015), the report highlights how the rescued priest thanks the God, the Vatican, the Jesuits (Jesuit Refugee Service), but avoids mentioning the role of the Indian government led by Prime Minister Modi.
The so-called ‘most complete Catholic news source of America’, National Catholic Register, has a report titled ‘Priest Freed by Taliban: God Has Saved Me’ (24 February 2015), in which CBCI reluctantly thanks Prime Minister Modi, but the main focus of the report was the released Jesuit ‘thanking God almighty’ for his rescue, completely ignoring the efforts of the Indian government.
While the international Catholic media was downplaying the
role of the Indian government in securing the release of the priest in
Afghanistan, official publications of Catholic diocese in Tamil Nadu were demonising
Prime Minister Modi. Thenoli (Voice of the South) is a Tamil magazine published
by the Catholic diocese of Kottar. Part of Kanyakumari district, Kottar diocese
represents one of the most powerful dioceses in terms of Catholic domination in
the general population.
The December 2015 issue of Thenoli features two articles on politics, both written by Catholic priests. One, rejoicing the Bihar defeat of BJP, described the party as “Hindu supremacist”. It described Prime Minister Modi as behaving like an “ignoramus lacking basic knowledge of Bihar”. Another article written by Fr Dr M C Rajan called the Prime Minister names – “hero of 2002 communal riots”, “the spoiled brat of inhuman western capitalist forces”, “a candidate promoted by NRI money and by fanatical casteist fascist forces”.
In June this year, Judith D’Souza, an Indian aid-worker, associated with Aga Khan Foundation, was kidnapped at gunpoint in Afghanistan. Once again, international Catholic news agencies, including Vatican Radio (a Catholic from Kolkata), Asianews.it (Indian Catholic worker kidnapped in Afghanistan) etc. highlighted her religion. The archbishop of Calcutta, Msgr. Thomas D’Souza, had mobilised Catholics to send appeals to the government and organised ‘prayer vigils’. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who is known for her prompt responses to overseas Indians in distress, had responded to the appeal of D’Souza family calling her ‘India’s daughter’, as well as securing her release. Her family members tweeted their gratitude to Swaraj, the Prime Minister and the Indian ambassador to Afghanistan.
Such proactive acts by the Modi government, which brought joy to its own community members, never deterred the Church from crusading against the Indian government. It does not even hesitate to join hands with political forces that are against the idea of India.
A case in point is the recent meeting organised by Tamil Nadu Bishops Council on 30 July to criticise the new draft for the National Education Policy (NEP). After making the usual accusations of Sangh Parivar conspiracy, the clergy tried to find fault with the draft for alleged introduction of Sanskrit as a third language in schools and yoga as a precondition for gaining recognition.
Interestingly, the draft questions most schools in Hindi-speaking states because ‘contrary to the spirit of three-language formula, no south Indian language is generally taught’ in these schools. And as early as 1986, the NEP had suggested that yoga should receive special attention in schools and efforts should ‘be made to introduce yoga in all schools’.
The key portion in the draft of the education policy only states yoga as one among several features needed for the development of the child:
Physical education, yoga, games and sports, NCC, NSS, art education, bal sansad, local art, craft, literature and skills, and other co-scholastic activities will be made an integral part of the curriculum and daily routine in schools for the holistic development of children. Facilities for the above will be a pre-requisite to the recognition of schools.
The statement is a far cry from the one suggested by the Catholic clergy. The key speaker in the Catholic bishops meeting was Kanimozhi, the Rajya Sabha MP from the DMK. Criticising the Modi government, she assured DMK support to the Church’s ‘struggle against the new draft’.
Thus the theology of ingratitude is a strategic driving force in the crusade against the ‘pagans’ in independent secular India.