Leaps of faith
The government of India has reacted promptly and properly to the remarks Pope Benedict made about religious conversions and religious intolerance in India. Without mincing words, New Delhi has told the Vatican that the pontiff had not been appropriately briefed about India’s secular credentials. About 2.34 per cent of India’s billion-plus population is Christian and lives in the country without prejudice. For the pope to consider that there are “signs of religious intolerance” in some parts of India is akin to our Prime Minister remarking about there being signs of racism in Europe. As far as a law against conversion in India is concerned, it operates in five states -- Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Arunachal Pradesh and Gujarat. The Supreme Court, in a 1977 judgment, distinguished between the right to proselytise and the right to convert. To force or entice people into changing their religion does not fit in with our secular State.
More annoying than the Vatican remark though is the way the BJP is trying to make a mountain out of a molehill over the ‘conversion’ issue. Considering that he heads a party that believes in the primacy of a particular religion in the country, BJP President Rajnath Singh may have well been advised not to write his somewhat florid letter to the pontiff. But then, this is a free country. His party colleague, Ravi Shankar Prasad, however, desperately sought to turn the India-Vatican fracas into a domestic slanging match by accusing the government of being silent.
One understands that the BJP is desperately seeking an issue -- any issue -- to make itself visible in national politics again. But for the party to give the government a lecture about how to deal with the Catholic Church is more than just ironic. The BJP and its greater family is not known for its secular credentials. If there has been consternation among India’s Christians in the past, the words ‘Graham Staines’ and ‘Dangs’ have become ready markers. So, instead of making ‘Vatican remarks’ and the government’s supposed ‘non-response’ an issue, let the BJP find something more worthwhile to chew on.