Unfazed by the criticism his group has faced over the violence in Orissa, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Praveen Togadia has said that violence against Hindus will be met with violence.
Even as he denied the involvement of the VHP, the radical Hindu group, in the attacks on the Christian community and churches in the state, he insisted that Hindus had the right to retaliate.
"If a violent religion is targeting a section of Hindu society, there would be a violent reaction," Togadia, a surgeon by profession, told IANS in a telephonic interview.
The trouble in Orissa started Aug 23 when gunmen shot dead VHP Orissa leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four others at his ashram in the district of Kandhamal, 340 km from Bhubaneswar.
VHP supporters and tribals went on the offensive against the killings, attacking and torching Christian homes and churches in remote rural areas, leaving at least 16 people dead and many injured.
Thousands of poor Christians fled their homes and villages. As the bloodshed raged for days, the community frantically urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to intervene to end the mayhem.
But Togadia insisted that Maoists did not kill Saraswati and that Christians were to blame.
"Maoists have nothing to do with this. The Orissa government is trying to save Christians in the area by releasing all these fake (information)," he said.
He added that the media was wrongly blaming him and his organisation unnecessarily.
"Don't blame me or my organisation for what is happening in Orissa. It is for the police and the judicial system to pinpoint who is to blame. In Orissa, it is a fight between tribals and Christians."
Asked how he was so sure of Christian involvement, Togadia replied: "All the circumstantial evidences go against Christians. Maoists do not have any history of conflict with us. Even the few who have been arrested are all Christians."
The VHP maintains that Christian missionaries are luring poor tribals to embrace Christianity.
Asked if re-conversions of Christians being carried out in Orissa was right, Togadia said: "We use the word conversion. We are against all conversions."
What about foreign nationals who become Hindus?
Togadia had a ready answer, "ISKCON is not targeting Christians while Christians target people with socio-economic problems for conversion. It is a planned activity. If somebody wants to convert, then Hindus don't have a problem."