Minority groups and political opponents welcomed on Tuesday Prime Minister Narendra Modi breaking his silence on the recurring incidents of communal tensions in the country, but some doubted if this would rein in groups running divisive campaigns.
The Congress said it was better late than never. “We hope Mr. Modi will show courage of conviction by taking on the RSS and its fringe elements and put a stop to their vitriolic agenda,” said spokesman Randeep Surjewala even as others in the party wondered if Mr. Modi had learnt a lesson from the electoral drubbing in Delhi.
CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury described the Prime Minister’s speech as classic proof of the English adage “hear what I say; not what I do,” drawing attention to the fact that the RSS and the VHP were continuing with their agenda.
Communist Party of India national secretary D. Raja said the reaction should come from the RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal. “If the PM has said it in all sincerity, then he should directly address the RSS and the VHP and take action against those who have attacked the very foundations of our Constitution.”
Pointing out that the Prime Minister had given similar assurances in his first speech in Parliament, K.C. Tyagi, Rajya Sabha member and Janata Dal (U) leader, said there was a lot of difference between what the BJP said and did. “We will believe Mr. Modi when the leaders of the RSS’s frontal organisations stop making inflammatory speeches.”
Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley described the attacks on Christian institutions as “aberrations.” Reflecting the change in the atmospherics triggered by the Prime Minister’s speech which addressed all minorities, Zakat Foundation of India president Syed Zafar Mahmood said: “When the PM speaks so loudly, clearly and emphatically, I am sure it will have a salutary effect and such aberrations will come to an end.”
Surprised by the manner in which Mr. Modi addressed all the apprehensions of the community, Catholic Bishops Conference of India spokesman Joseph Chinnayan said: “We did not expect such a strong statement. His assurance that everyone had the right to adopt any religion is reassuring. We hope these words translate into action.”
Echoing similar sentiments, the spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Delhi, Dominic Emmanuel, wondered why Mr. Modi had not been forthcoming earlier. “Can he rein in those who have been vitiating the atmosphere? They are not just fringe elements. Even party members and Ministers like Venkaiah Naidu spoke out on anti-conversion law in Parliament at the height of the ghar wapsi campaign.”
While former member of the Delhi Minorities Commission A.C. Michael is also hoping for action, Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha P.J. Kurien, who was also a speaker at the function where Mr. Modi spoke, insisted that when the Prime Minister — “the leader of the nation” — gave an assurance, “what more is needed?” Pointing out that every political organisation, including the Congress, had dissenting voices, he said: “Ignore the fringe elements; listen to the PM. I have no doubt he will be able to implement what he says.”
The Syro-Malabar Church initially wanted to celebrate the elevation of two beatified members of the church — Fr. Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Euphrasia — to sainthood on February 2 with a religious function. However, Mr. Modi expressed his inability to attend it on February 2 and suggested February 17 instead.