President Obama’s out-of-the-blue statement voicing concern for allegedly growing religious intolerance in India is no surprise at all. There are reasons for this outburst. The US President is clearly under the superficial anti-India propaganda by a powerful network of the Christian lobby alleging that minorities face ‘existential challenges’.
Is that really so? A few stray incidences in Delhi concerning churches are unfortunate and against our long history and tradition of religious harmony and peaceful coexistence. Such incidents, of course, must be prevented and wrongdoers punished. The pattern of such incidents, however, and the disproportionate propaganda following them must be diagnosed. Likely hired criminals damaging churches may be more a symbolic act, intended to create an atmosphere for motivated propaganda against the Sangh Parivar and push the Modi government on the defensive. While the use of the term ‘symbolic’ for such incidents may sound trivialising, it needs iteration that these are not open or premeditated attacks, nor owned up to by any group.
During Vajpayee’s NDA government, a similar propaganda was unleashed by vested interests. There were incidents of a few churches being damaged; incidents of rapes on nuns were cited to claim that a Sangh-influenced government had been “encouraging fringe elements”. The St. Anne’s Church in Gulbarga was attacked on June 8, 2000 along with another, St. Peter Paul Church, in Bengaluru, and literature threatening Christians was distributed. But investigation unravelled the real culprits and intentions. It was the handiwork of Deendar Anjuman, an outfit backed by Pakistan’s ISI.
Another incident was the rape of four nuns in Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh, in 1999. Investigation revealed the 12 rapists to be Christians. More intriguing was an incident in 2009 when church property was destroyed in Mangaluru on March 16, sparking off media discourse on “anti-Christian activities of Hindu outfits”. But post-arrest investigation revealed all seven accused to be Christians, who confessed that the intention of their crime was to defame the majority community and create social divide. Such incidents are an eye-opener.
The recent Delhi church incidents may not have been along earlier patterns. Whatever the case, Home Minister Rajnath Singh has been quick to intervene to the apparent satisfaction of the Christian delegation that sought his intervention. Then what led Obama to issue statements that are an intervention in India’s domestic affairs?
Obama has shown himself to be more a Christian figure than statesman. Fact is that the missionary lobby fears an anti-conversion law that will prevent them from ‘harvesting’ Hindus as part of their demographic project. There were expectations during the Pope’s visit to India that he would advise evangelists to stop conversions. Far from it, he claimed conversion to be a right. Indian missionaries are perturbed by rising demands for a Central law against conversion. Obama’s statement is a part of the Vatican’s agenda in India.
Does India have to learn religious tolerance and secularism from Obama? The POTUS needs to be reminded that unlike India, an American Presidency oath carries religious elements. Since 1937, the US President’s oath ceremony includes blessings by a pastor, called Benediction. Moreover, the President-elect repeats his oath placing his hand on the Bible.
The US and Europe’s approach to terrorism has morphed into anti-Islamic rhetoric, with most European countries officially declaring a departure from multi-culturalism. For instance, Italy’s culture minister Dario Franceschini termed the burqa a ‘mobile prison’. Switzerland has banned the construction of minarets. Will Obama lecture them, and France too, which has banned the hijab?
Obama’s statement reveals him to be driven by propaganda, not guided by realities. He is no world statesman like George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, who sacrificed his life in a defining battle against white supremacy. Obama is not decisive; he is just pushing the Vatican agenda which wants to pressurize the Modi government and stall an anti-conversion law. POTUS’s intervention is pathetic and condemnable. Anyone who uses it for domestic politics is guilty of encouraging neo-imperialists to intervene in our domestic affairs.
Sinha is Hony Director of India Policy Foundation