Prime Minister Modi who has been keeping a meaningful silence on the hate speeches, communal remarks, religious attacks and conversion attempts of his party, finally spoke on religious freedom and against sectarian violence on Tuesday.
Modi was attending the celebration of beatification of Indian saints saints Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Mother Euphrasia late last year by the Pope, at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi. He said that ‘everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence’ and that his government would not allow ‘any religious group, belonging to majority or minority to incite hatred against others overtly or covertly’. The venue as well as context in which the event took place becomes relevant as PM’s speech comes in the wake of recent vandalism of five churches and a Christian-run school in the capital since December. This is the first time he has spoken on the matter in his near nine months as the Prime Minister. The gathering comprised mainly of Christian community leaders and Modi guaranteed equal freedom and rights for all religions as enshrined in the constitution.
The Prime Minister cited examples of Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi who advocated secularism and religious tolerance. Modi’s silence has been condemned by the Opposition, the minorities as well as the rest of the international community. US President Barack Obama, who had been the Chief Guest at the Republic Day ceremony in January had expressed his concern about the religious intolerances in the country and stressed upon the need to protect religious freedom of the people. He had also highlighted the matter at the White House National Prayer Breakfast Meeting in Washington on February 6 saying that the “acts of intolerance” experienced by people of various religions in India in the past few years would have shocked Mahatma Gandhi.
Modi during his election campaign as a BJP candidate for the Prime Minister post and after assuming office has always upheld the Hindutva agendas. The Sangh Parivar and the BJP have been tightening the noose over the minorities with their saffronising agendas since then. The hate speeches of the Ministers, the poisonous communal remarks targeting the minorities, the attempts of the Human Resource Development Ministry to make Sanskrit compulsory in the school curriculum, the demand to make Bhagwad Gita as a 'Rashtriya Granth' (national book), the highly controversial “Ghar Vapasi” of the minorities back to Hinduism and the recent incidents of issuing an advert to commemorate the Republic Day with the words “secular” and “socialist” removed from it and several other related controversies are all part of their agenda. Aggravating the scenario was the attacks on the churches in the capital. Modi had remained silent and this invited widespread criticism from within the country and outside.
The constitution guarantees religious freedom and it is the responsibility of the government to ensure the safety of the lives and the sentiments of the people. Hindutva movement is a perfect epitome of violence, coercion and intolerance. V D Savarkar and M S Golwalkar who have been the founding fathers of Hindutva ideology, played a significant role in the expansion of the Hindutva movement by fostering hatred in the followers towards other communities. It is evident that the party have not been able to digest the concepts of religious tolerance and secularism. The record victory of Kejriwal’s Aam Aadhmi Party has surely put an end to the ‘Modi wave’. The invitation for the beatification event came as a relief to Modi and hence the subsequent speeches on religious equality. One has yet to see if the PM could convince his party and people on the matter. India would no longer be a secular socialist democratic republic and the conflicts would prolong if steps are not taken to curb the current situation.