In Orissa’s communal cauldron, right-wing Hindu organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) have, ironically, learnt a key lesson from the very people they fiercely oppose: Christian missionaries.
Their key strategy is to beat the missionaries at their own game by setting up schools, NGOs, charity centres, orphanages and old-age homes.
Amid such business-like rivalry, Christian missionaries have a first-mover advantage and goodwill that hardline Hindu organisations want to put an end to.
In this war of do-gooders, there is, however, a vital difference: the schools and homes supported by the VHP and Sangh Parivar are only open to Hindus, particularly among tribal groups missionaries have not been able to cover.
“Our main aim is to shield the Hindus and we have been successful. We asked our followers to protest. The proof lies in the burning of churches and orphanages,” boasts Satyanarayan Panda, the working president of VHP and a lawyer.
Is this not instigation? “No. We called only for protests. But they turned violent,” says Panda.
Drought-hit, poor districts are fertile ground for religious organisations. In the past couple of years, the VHP set up 390 Hindu Ekal Vidyalayas or single-teacher schools in western Orissa alone.
It also runs 50 parallel orphanages like those set up by Christian missionaries here, but mainly in Hindu areas.
Many Christian organisations are nearly a century old, as opposed to Hindu-run social organisations. The Baptist church here that carries out social programmes was set up in 1881. The church burnt down within walking distance of Padampur police station is 25 years old.
The Hindu hardliners want to catch up. “We have 11 hospitals and clinics and will set up more,” a VHP official said.
The ‘market potential’ is vast and ideology traded for education, food and access to healthcare.
Christian-run social organisations are far better run in terms of infrastructure. “We don’t have money like them,” says Subash Chauhan, of the Sangh Parivar. “But we will catch up,” he says.