Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat’s controversial statement on Mother Teresa sparked angry reactions from the Opposition and Church on Tuesday, with Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar saying the comments reflected the “perverted minds” of some people as the government distanced itself from the issue.
Bhagwat had said at a function in Rajasthan on Monday that Mother Teresa’s work among the poor was aimed at converting them to Christianity. The comments were made in the presence of several BJP leaders and came days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured minorities that the government would ensure complete freedom of faith.
His statement was condemned by the Opposition, the Catholic Church and the Nobel laureate’s organisation with the Congress calling it an attempt to polarise and confuse people.
“The whole world recognised her service to the mankind, but some people having a "prejudiced mindset" are making such assertions on Mother Teresa,” Kumar said.
When the matter was raised in the Lok Sabha, parliamentary affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu said the government had nothing to do with the statement. “Individual organisations have every right to speak outside (Parliament)," he said.
Bhagwat’s statement comes in the midst of a heated debate on the controversial ghar wapsi, or homecoming, programme with the Opposition saying hardline Hindu groups were forcing people to convert to Hinduism.
Hindu groups have, for years, accused Christian missionaries of luring poor people to their faith with money and other inducements.
Bhagwat’s comments came under heavy criticism from the Aam Aadmi Party and the Trinamool Congress, which rules Kolkata where the Bharat Ratna did most of her work.
“I worked wid Mother Teresa for a few months at Nirmal Hriday ashram in Kolkata. She was a noble soul. Pl spare her,” tweeted Kejriwal. The Trinamool Congress also criticised the RSS chief.
The Catholic Church also termed Bhagwat’s attempt to malign the Nobel laureate as inhuman. "It is quite unfortunate that the services of such a world-renowned Nobel Prize laureate and Bharat Ratna awardee like Mother Teresa being dragged into unwarranted controversies," said president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) Cardinal Mar Baselios Cleemis.
Bhagwat, however, remained unfazed and told a crowd in Jaipur on Tuesday there was a need to revive Hindu culture as people with no understanding of "our society and culture" were moving forward in the country because of weaknesses in Hindu society.
BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi Bhagwat also came out in support of Bhagwat, saying the Nobel laureate had herself admitted that her job was to bring people into the Christian fold.
"Kindly read Navin Chawla's book, where in an interview, Mother says 'I am in the service of Jesus and my job is to spread the word of Christianity and bring people to its fold'," Lekhi said.
The Sangh, too, backed its chief. “Christian missionaries are luring poor people for conversion for years, and Mother Teresa was also involved in conversion in the name of service. We have been saying it for years,” says a senior swayamsevak.
Mother Teresa, who worked for nearly 50 years to help the poorest in Kolkata, founded the Missionaries of Charity and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in 1979.
(with inputs from HTC, Nagpur)