The government’s decision to send a delegation led by foreign minister Sushma Swaraj to the Vatican for Mother Teresa’s canonisation on September 4 appears to be the latest point of confrontation between the BJP and the Sangh Parivar.
The Parivar affiliates, still smarting from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s criticism of cow vigilantes, see the decision as an affront to their ideology.
“It becomes hard for the Sangh brass to explain to the workers the rationale for change in the BJP’s position. For now the RSS brass has put down the decision to political compulsions,” a Sangh functionary said on condition of anonymity.
The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of the BJP, and its partner organisations have always been suspicious of Albania-born Mother Teresa, accusing her of using Missionaries of Charity that she founded in 1950 of trying to convert people to Christianity.
Conversions are an emotive issue for the Parivar which says Christian missionaries spread out to the remote corners of the country to proselytize tribals and poor Hindus.
While the RSS described the move as a “political decision by an elected government”, its hardline affiliates such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) are not pulling their punches.
“The whole process of anointing her as a saint in itself is a falsehood. In this day and age it is specious to talk of miracles,” VHP’s international joint general secretary Surendra Jain said.
The VHP, which had described Modi’s cow vigilante remark as an insult, said in acknowledging the so-called miracles of Mother Teresa, the government had “thrown open the doors for more conversions”.
Jain demanded an inquiry into alleged conversions carried out by the Missionaries of Charity.
Pope Francis had cleared the way for Mother Teresa’s sainthood in December.
The Church defines saints as those believed to have been holy enough during their lives to now be in Heaven and can intercede with God to perform miracles. Mother Teresa has been credited with two miracles, both involving the healing of sick people.
Swaraj’s delegation includes food processing minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and Goa’s deputy chief minister Francis D’Souza.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, too, will be at the Vatican but she says she is going there as a guest of Missionaries of Charity.
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s poor health has forced her to pull out. “If I had not been unwell, I too would have been there to witness the sacred ceremony, and to pay my humble homage to the woman who was the very embodiment of boundless compassion, mercy and grace,” she said in a letter to Pope Francis.
The Sangh functionary, who didn’t wish to be named as he is not authorised to speak to the media, said there was considerable dissent within the organisation over the government’s position on Mother Teresa.
“The feedback from the rank and file of the Sangh is that the government has erred by sending Swaraj. They wanted a minister of state in the MEA to represent the country,” the functionary said.
RSS sources said the government was told of the Parivar’s sentiments.
Modi’s tribute to Mother Teresa in his radio programme Mann ki Baat, too, has not gone down well with the Parivar. The Prime Minister had praised Mother Teresa, a Nobel laureate and a Bharat Ratna, for devoting her life to serving the poor and the destitute.
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat stoked a controversy in 2015, when at the inauguration of an orphanage in Rajasthan, he had said unlike Mother Teresa, work “here would be carried out selflessly”.
RSS general secretary Suresh Bahiyyaji Joshi had questioned Bharat Ratna for her, saying it was a worry that the country’s highest civilian honour was conferred on Mother Teresa 10 years before BR Ambedkar, who is credited with writing the Indian constitution and is a Dalit icon.
(with agency inputs)