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PM-Pope meeting has echoes in BJP, strikes right notes in Catholic clergy

While there have been some voices of concern within the Christian community, cautioning Church leaders against trying to get closer to BJP, the church leadership, including some from the influential Roman Catholic church, has expressed keenness in engaging with the BJP leadership.

Written by Liz Mathew | New Delhi |
Updated: October 31, 2021 3:43:28 pm
PM Modi meets Pope FrancisPrime Minister Narendra Modi meets Pope Francis at the Vatican City. (PTI Photo)

Christians being a community the party wants to establish as its support base to retain power in poll-bound Goa and Manipur, and to emerge as a formidable force in Kerala, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with Pope Francis and his invitation for the Pontiff to visit India are very significant, according to sources in BJP.

While there have been some voices of concern within the Christian community, cautioning Church leaders against trying to get closer to BJP, the church leadership, including some from the influential Roman Catholic church, has expressed keenness in engaging with the BJP leadership.

Sources said there have been a series of dialogues between the two sides in Kerala in the last few months.

The Prime Minister’s “warm meeting” with the Pope on Saturday was welcomed by the Church.

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Major Archbishop Baselios Cardinal Cleemis, who headed the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) and had requested Modi to invite the Pope to India in 2014, saw it as a fresh opportunity for dialogue between the government and the community. “This has a historical importance,” Cleemis said about Saturday’s meeting. “The meeting should not be seen merely as one between two country heads; rather, it was the head of the largest democracy and an ancient culture meeting the head of a large religious community…”

PM Modi gifts a book on India’s climate initiatives to Pope Francis. (Photo: PTI)

“It would bring in positive efforts in India for a mutual trust and collaboration between people of different religious groups. It would also contribute to the need for dialogue. We are very delighted that the Prime Minister has opened ways for a Papal visit to India,” Cleemis told The Sunday Express.

The welcome note by Cleemis and an earlier one by George Cardinal Alanchery, president of Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference have rekindled hopes of building confidence among the Christian community towards the party, BJP leaders said.

Christians, the third largest religious community after Hindus and Muslims, stands as a “prospective support base” for BJP, according to a party leader. “The Goa experience has taught BJP that the majority of Hindus and a section of Christians could make a formidable voter base for us — be it in Kerala, Manipur or other Northeastern states,” this leader said.

Disintegration of the Congress as a political force in these states, he said, could help BJP, as the community is “losing its confidence” in Congress as an electoral force.

Although BJP’s earlier attempts to woo the Christian community did not yield much results in Kerala, the party is now trying to capitalise the increasing disenchantment among Christian leaders in Kerala over growing influence of Muslims in Congress-led UDF.

“Decline of Congress and hostile attitude of CPI(M) towards many factions of the community, particularly the Orthodox church, and in sharing minority reservation benefits for which CPI(M) has taken an explicitly pro-Muslim stand, have created a conducive atmosphere for BJP in Kerala,”said R Balashankar, co-convener, training programme and publication in BJP.

He said the issue of “love jihad, where the political spectrum in Kerala tried to corner the Pala bishop” has also led to a “rethinking in large segments of the community”.

“The experience of the community in Goa, where it is a very significant political force, and also the Christian majority in the Northeast, where BJP shares power with pro-Christian regional political groups, have generated a great level of confidence in the community,” Balashankar said.

There, however, have also been voices to the contrary from the Christian community in Kerala. ‘Sathyadeepam’, a publication of Syro Malabar Church, the most influential among Roman Catholics in the state, has come out against the latest developments. Alleging that “vested interests”of the Church leadership is making “compromises” with BJP-RSS leadership despite increasing attacks against the community, the weekly has stated that they failed to raise the issue of attacks against the community and its institutions in other parts of the country.

A team of Association for Protection of Civil Rights, United Against Hate and United Christian Forum — NGOs — recently presented a report after visiting Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, stating that there has been a series of attacks against people from Christian community and churches in these states. Sources in the Catholic church in Delhi said the influential Kerala Church is ignoring these attacks in North India.

Pointing out that both Christians and Muslims have been the “subject of consistent attacks” by Hindutva forces since BJP came to power in 2014, Father Suresh Mathew, editor of ‘Indian Currents’, a church publication, said: “BJP has spared no efforts and even supported attacks and hate speech against Christians. Several states have enacted anti-conversion laws, which are in violation of the Constitution. The BJP government in Karnataka recently initiated an unconstitutional survey of Christian worshipping places (it is put on hold for the time being). Bishops, priests and lay groups should be aware of the dangerous situation. Time has come for the Church leadership in India to shed diplomacy and express their concern for religious freedom and human rights protection.”

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