Last week, at a conference organised in Delhi to showcase the buoyancy in Indian markets, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor struck a slightly discordant note. Referring to reports of attacks on churches and the alleged harassment of minorities, he said that such incidents would affect India’s attempts to woo investments from Europe and the Arab countries.
Tharoor is right to be distressed over any incident, however small, that conveys an impression that India is intolerant towards its religious minorities. He would even be right in suggesting that economic growth presupposes a large measure of social harmony. However, Tharoor was treading on dangerous ground by extending his argument to suggest that European and Arab countries have a special interest in ensuring the safety and security of India’s minorities. Ensuring the civil liberties of Indian citizens of all faiths is enshrined in the Constitution and is the duty of all governments in India. Yes, violations do take place-and religious minorities aren’t the only people who are affected-and correcting the distortions is the responsibility of both the State and civil society. But this is an internal matter of India and beyond the scope of other sovereign governments unless, of course, they happen to be directly affected by any adverse fallout.
The isolated thefts and vandalism in churches and the criminal assault of a nun in West Bengal are unfortunate, even shameful. However, these incidents don’t warrant internationalisation and certainly don’t necessitate India being at the receiving end of a gratuitous sermon by a visiting President of the US. In the past, and under successive governments of different political complexions, India has always protested against other countries meddling in its internal affairs. It is, therefore, unbecoming of a Congress MP with a rich background in international affairs to link incidents such as thefts in churches, the criminal assault on a nun and perhaps even the beef ban in Haryana and Maharashtra to religious sensitivities in West Asia and Europe.
At the possible risk of being unfair, it may well be argued that Tharoor’s intervention wasn’t entirely innocent. Over the past three months, there has been a concerted campaign by India’s Opposition parties, the English language media and some members of the Christian clergy to exaggerate the significance of crimes directed at churches and individual Christians. A fire caused by an electrical short-circuit, a bout of window breaking by a handful of louts and the assault on a nun by ordinary criminals lured by the large amounts of cash kept in a seminary have been quite consciously painted as part of a larger design to harass and intimidate India’s Christians.
It has been claimed that these incidents are the direct consequence of the Ghar Wapsi programme launched by Hindu evangelists and the tacit encouragement of ‘majoritarian’ impulses by the Narendra Modi Government. Despite forcefully reaffirming India’s unflinching commitment to religious pluralism in the course of his parliamentary interventions, Prime Minister Modi has been mercilessly pilloried by the upholders of cosmopolitan sensibilities for leading India up the garden path of Hindu obscurantism. The pattern isn’t new. It is fashionable today to posit the ‘intolerant’ Modi against the ‘large-hearted’ Atal Bihari Vajpayee. However, those with longer memories will recall that the very same forces who are suggesting the imminent arrival of Hindu fascism launched savage attacks on Vajpayee for his alleged encouragement of the people who murdered the Australian missionary Graham Staines in Odisha, unsettled some improvised churches in the Dangs district of Gujarat and allegedly attacked a Christian shrine in Bengaluru. Quite systematically, an attempt was made to suggest that religious minorities would be unsafe under any dispensation that had the BJP at its helm.
The pattern is being repeated in today’s India. The charges of Hindu intolerance are just a precursor to a larger political intervention aimed at suggesting that there is a hidden agenda of the Modi Government that has nothing to do with improving the material well-being of Indians. The aim is also to tarnish India’s social record in the international community and, in the process, call into question the ethical viability of its economic
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