The RSS Sarsanghchalak’s comment about Mother Teresa reeks of prejudice. More surprising is that he’s utterly uninformed about the service Mother provided. Even worse, he’s betrayed complete ignorance of the high opinion in which Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani hold Mother Teresa.
The Sarsanghchalak’s prejudice is probably explained by the fact that he doesn’t like Christians. His and the RSS’s suspicion that Christians have carried out mass conversion campaigns, which he’s even called “loot”, is well-known.
Here, what’s revealing is his lack of knowledge of facts. If Christians have attempted mass conversions but still languish at 2.3% of the population — and they were 2.6% in 1971 — they’re pretty hopeless at it. They don’t need to be admonished. They need a crash course in how to do it better! Similarly, the Sarsanghchalak is unaware of the service Mother Teresa provided. She would take in not just the destitute and suffering but the dying — people who lived their lives in misery, discarded by their families. She gave them comfort and solace so they could die in peace.
Mother Teresa’s biography records that the Missionaries of Charity “bury the dying they have nursed according to the rites of each individual’s religion”. One of her quotations makes the same point: “You say a prayer to your God and I will say my prayer to my God.”
You can’t put a value to such service. Nor should you ascribe a motive to it. Beyond their gratitude these people could not have given Mother Teresa anything. And, of course, she did it in God’s name because only faith can evoke such service.
Had she wanted, Mother Teresa could have used their gratitude to convert the dying. But she didn’t. Even at their most vulnerable she honoured their faith. This was her true greatness.
Frankly, there are very few people like Mother Teresa. Neither Mr Bhagwat nor I are one of them. That’s why she got the Nobel Peace Prize and became a Bharat Ratna. Neither he nor I will get either.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani recognised and praised Mother’s qualities. Mr Vajpayee said: “At a time when humankind is being increasingly driven by selfish motives, she gave selflessly to those whom society has forsaken and forgotten. In the age of cynicism she was a symbol of understanding faith.” LK Advani spoke similarly: “In death, as in life, Mother will continue to inspire millions of people to contribute in their way to bring joy in the lives of those who are less fortunate than them.”
Unfortunately Mr Vajpayee is not in a position to speak out but I would like to hear Mr Advani correct Mr Bhagwat. Gently perhaps but pointedly nonetheless. I also would like to hear my Prime Minister. Not so gently, in his case, and perhaps more pointedly.
Instead, what I’ve heard is the sound of RSS spokespersons scrambling for cover. Even though Mr Bhagwat’s words were captured on video and cannot be denied, the fact his spokespersons claim he didn’t say it — or mean what he said — suggests they’ve realised his horrible mistake.
If Mr Bhagwat is half the leader he thinks he is the least he can do is apologise. It takes true character to accept you’ve made a mistake.
I’ll be honest. I don’t apologise as much as I need to. I just hope people will forget and forgive. But then I’m not the RSS Sarsanghchalak. I don’t pretend to be a great leader of men.
(The views expressed by the author are personal.)