Making his first administrative intervention in response to continuing violence targeting Christians, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday sought action taken reports from West Bengal on the gang rape of a 71-year-old nun in Nadia district and from Haryana on the vandalism at an under-construction church near Hisar.
Mr. Modi had on February 17 declared at a gathering of Christians in the capital that his government would not allow any group to incite hatred, and reiterated the point in a Parliament speech on March 2.
Two hours before Parliament convened on Tuesday, the PMO tweeted: “PM is deeply concerned about the incidents in Hisar, Haryana and Nadia, West Bengal.”
PM is deeply concerned about the incidents in Hisar, Haryana and Nadia, West Bengal.— PMO India (@PMOIndia) >March 17, 2015
In another tweet that quickly followed, it added: “PMO has asked for immediate report on facts & action taken regarding the incidents in Haryana & West Bengal.” Unimpressed by these tweets, the Opposition blamed the ruling BJP, raising the issue in Parliament, and Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge wondered: “Why are these things happening despite the Prime Minister’s assurances.”
Tuesday’s intervention by Mr. Modi marks the second significant shift in his approach to religious violence. From being pointedly silent in the wake of violence initially, he spoke out first, and now has intervened administratively. Mr. Modi had explained to his colleagues and a Christian delegation that met him in December that his speaking on the issue would only divert national attention from economic development that he wanted the focus to be on. However, as recurring reports of religious intolerance dampen the development agenda itself, it appears that the PM found it imperative to step in.
Hours after Mr. Modi’s tweet, the BJP-led Haryana government announced the arrest of one person in connection with the violence. On Monday, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar had said the vandalised church was built illegally and its priest was luring youths with the promise of a bride.
In Parliament, the Opposition on Tuesday wanted to know why the minorities were being targeted and senior BJP office-bearers were making offensive statements even after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement that everyone had the right to believe and propagate a religion of their choice. Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said the Centre could not be expected to step in every time there is such an incident as law and order is a State subject. “When required, the government will not shirk responsibility to take action,” he said.
While the issue was raised in both Houses of Parliament and resulted in a short adjournment of proceedings in the Rajya Sabha, the Congress walked out of the Lok Sabha after a heated debate which also saw West Bengal politics being played out over the gang rape of an elderly nun in a convent school in Ranaghat. The Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) turned on the West Bengal Government – as did the BJP — to a loud protest from the Trinamool Congress benches.
The usually neutral AIADMK joined the Congress. As the TMC Government came under attack party leader Saugata Roy pointed out that the Chief Minister had visited the convent in Ranaghat.
( Additional reporting from Smriti Kak Ramachandran and Anita Joshua)
PMO has asked for immediate report on facts & action taken regarding the incidents in Haryana & West Bengal.— PMO India (@PMOIndia) >March 17, 2015