Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement at a Church function on Tuesday calling for religious tolerance and freedom underline a course correction brought about by a series of events in the past three months.
Mr. Modi had been remaining silent despite the demand from Christian leaders that he speak out against conversions and attacks on Church institutions.
“There had been a sustained signature campaign by a U.S.-based group of Indians to apprise President Barack Obama of the attacks and strong public opinion that found expression in national and international media asking for Mr. Modi to break his silence,” said a Christian leader who was among those who met the Prime Minister and urged him to make a statement.
Mr. Obama’s remarks in New Delhi on January 27 and at the National Prayer Breakfast shortly after his return to the U.S. could have led to the change in stance, experts said.
The Delhi election results, which saw the Aam Aadmi Party trump the Bharatiya Janata Party, made Mr. Modi break his silence.
“The rejection in Delhi has given the BJP a big jolt, leading to a course correction and a perception management exercise,” Balveer Arora, political scientist, said.
Till recently, Mr. Modi had maintained that while the government would ensure the security of everyone, he would not issue a statement in favour of any community or on religious issues to keep the focus from shifting from development. On Tuesday when Mr. Modi spoke, he made a strong statement against violence “against any religion on any pretext.” He later tweeted his remarks.
Modi held out against speaking on conversions, church attacks
Representatives of Christian groups met Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his 7 Race Course Road residence on Christmas eve to request him to assuage their fears of the re-conversion ( ghar vapsi ) campaign of Sangh affiliates and attacks on churches, but he refused to do so, at least two members of the delegation confirmed it to The Hindu separately.
“We want to thank him for speaking at last. We had been requesting him to do this. We would like to see in the coming days what measures the government takes to stop hate crimes against minorities,” said Vijaysh Lal, executive director of the Evangelical fellowship of India, who was in the delegation.
“We had been seeking an appointment since June and we finally got it on December 24. We repeated our request to the PM to make a statement on the attacks on Christians, but he refused. He said don’t go by what the media says,” another delegation member said. “We came out disappointed.”
As the news of the meeting spread among members of the community, the sense of disappointment grew, he said.
After the attack on St. Sebastian Church in Delhi on December 1, the Christian community in the national capital sent a memorandum to the Prime Minister the next day regarding “incidents of violence against our churches and personnel in the country.” The memorandum listed the Delhi incident, along with several instances of violence against Christians in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and the rest of India.
“We hope and pray that such discrimination and targeted violence will be ended by strong political will and administrative action,” it read. “You and your government are poised in a unique moment in the history of the nation to ensure that all people, irrespective of faith, feel secure. Small religious communities such as the Christians need to be reassured they are protected and are secure and safe in their motherland.”