Indian sessions of Parliament are getting into the habit of being foreshadowed by controversial remarks made by prominent public figures. There was an uproar during the winter session over Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti’s unacceptable remarks about the Opposition.
The ongoing budget session has seen RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat cast aspersions on Mother Teresa’s motives as she sought to serve the sick and destitute through homes and hospices of the Missionaries of Charity.
Inaugurating an orphanage and a women’s home at Bharatpur, Rajasthan, Mr Bhagwat said, “We will not provide service like that rendered by Mother Teresa. It is possible that her kind of work was good but there was a motive behind that service. It was to convert those she served to Christianity.”
There are several grounds to deplore Mr Bhagwat’s remarks. He has not only criticised Mother Teresa without so much offering a hint of evidence about her activities but has in effect stigmatised an established religious order that continues to serve the poor while retaining its share of admirers the world over.
Anyone is well within their right to criticise Mother Teresa — who after all had her share of detractors — but Mr Bhagwat’s failure to understand the import of his remarks in the context of the recent attacks on churches is highly regrettable.
The Christian community has been living in a state of uncertainty following the attacks on churches in recent months. When you have a situation in the capital where armed guards are placed in some churches for protection, critical remarks from the leader of a powerful organisation about the intentions of iconic Christian figures is bound to reinforce fears.
Mr Bhagwat’s comments do little to encourage RSS cadres to have a more peaceable outlook towards minorities.
Mr Bhagwat’s remarks also do a great disservice to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they significantly undermine his recent assurances to minorities. The PM recently praised Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Rosa Eluvathingal, two Christian figures elevated to sainthood, as “shining examples of dedication to God through selfless service for the betterment of mankind”.
The discordance between the PM’s message and Mr Bhagwat casting aspersions on another beatified figure less than 10 days later will continue to generate doubts about the establishment’s approach to minorities. The RSS should realise that such perceptions will ultimately have political ramifications that will be damaging to the BJP and hurt the PM’s image, both at home and abroad.