India’s Modi invites Pope Francis to woo Christian community

By Mikaela Viqueira

New Delhi, Nov 6 (EFE).- The Catholic minority in India is looking forward to a possible visit by Pope Francis to the Asian country, after the Indian prime minister, the Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi, extended an invitation to him, a gesture that is being viewed as a way to attract votes.

“Prime Minster extended an invitation to His Holiness Pope Francis to visit India at an early date, which was accepted with pleasure,” the Indian government said in a brief statement following a meeting between the two on Oct. 30.

The first meeting between an Indian leader and the pope in more than 20 years and the possibility of a supreme pontiff traveling to India for the fourth time after Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1999 has caused excitement among the Catholic community, often the victim of pressure and attacks from the Hindu majority.

For some analysts, the gesture reflects Modi’s desire as well as that of his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to attract votes in states where there are a large number of Christians, including the southern Goa and the northeastern Manipur, where elections are scheduled to be held next year.

According to the last national census of 2011, Christians represent 41.3 percent of the population in Manipur and 25.1 percent in Goa, while if you take all of India, that figure drops to 2.3 percent, behind Hindus (79.8 percent) and Muslims (14.2 percent).

“Now BJP understands that for political majorities (in states) like Goa, Kerala, they need to get votes,” political analyst Sreejith Panickar told EFE.

According to the analyst, when Modi’s party “makes some move in terms of religion”, they are usually criticized for being “non-secular” and “working only for the benefit of Hindus.”

“They have been trying to find different ways to counter that argument and change the that of being a neutral party,” Panickar added. “I think there are two reasons for it: one is to attract people from other religions to the party; and the other is a greater goal that they have: to retain Christians in the north parts of India, and also in states like Kerala and Goa.”

Other gestures by Modi in the past have also been seen as attempts to attract the Christian community.

“The religious minorities were being discriminated and persecuted in the nearby Islam-dominated countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh,” the analyst explained.

This led the BJP to pass the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act that seeks to grant citizenship to irregular immigrants from these countries belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities.

“The BJP voted to give protection to the Christians and Hindus from there. So that move was welcomed by many in the Christian community,” Panickar added.

However, the Christian community also points out to aggression, discrimination and persecution by radical Hindus, faithful followers of the ideology of the Modi-led party.

“There are numerous incidents. There are Hindu fanatics who are interested in creating trouble between two religious communities” and “are attacking Christians, churches, pastors,” accusing them of seeking to convert Hindus to Christianity, the development director of ADF India, a human rights organization that advocates for religious freedom, A.C. Michael, told EFE.

Between January and September, there have been 305 incidents against the Christian community, which means at least one attack per day, the activist said.

But despite the persistence of violence, especially in the northern regions of India, where the BJP has the greatest support and presence, there is a larger Hindu community that does not support this line of thought and advocates peace, according to Michael.

The development director of ADF India does not rule out that there are political motives behind Modi’s approach but has a different interpretation.

“It could also be that Modi wants to send a message that ‘we have good relations, I respect the religious leader, let’s not attack,'” he said.

Father George Mangalapilly, imprisoned in 2017 on charges of forcing a Hindu to convert to Christianity and acquitted by the country’s top court in September, welcomed a possible visit by the pope.

Related Articles

Back to top button