Secular gestures don’t come easy to the prime minister. For long he has maintained that charades like iftaar parties, and wearing a skull cap presented in a conference to promote religious inclusiveness or sadhbhavana are shallow tools of “appeasement”, a favourite word of the Hindutva brigade. He is loath to even identify Christians and Muslims as such, preferring to deal in the binaries of minority and majority. Yet last month he broke his own deeply held and frequently articulated beliefs.

At a conference of Catholics held to confer sainthood on two of its members, Narendra Modi was the chief guest. In his speech—motivated by the hiding dished out to his party by the Delhi voter and the pep talk dished out by his friend Barack—he reiterated his government’s commitment to ensure religious freedom for all citizens, deplored attacks on churches, and disappointed his army of trolls and other nut jobs masquerading as right-wing intellectuals.

Great meaning has been read into his utterances: from how the business of running the Centre forces hardliners to soften the edges, how this was the prime minister asserting his authority, how it was a message for the RSS to shut up, and whatever else spinmeister-editors thought of it. There’s a chance it is all these things, but it is most likely not.

Behind all the talk of development, the BJP and the Sangh’s ideological moorings remain hitched to the half-baked formulations of Hindutva which, irrespective of what the Supreme Court says, is not a way of life for the Hindu population at large.

Hindutva demands its pound of flesh, therefore ghar wapsi and other such things have been given impetus, the government’s legislative agenda (perhaps ripe for the Ordinance route) includes a law governing conversions, and the prime minister’s grand ideas don’t reflect in the words of Sakshi Maharaj, and the other Sadhvis and Yogis who are an important part of the government.

Living under the BJP is not easy for minorities as Madhya Pradesh demonstrates. The state has had BJP rule for long now, and in Shivraj Singh Chouhan it has a grassroots leader known for delivering services efficiently. Yet Christians in the state report an increase in attacks on their community and churches, as also an eager application of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, a bad law still on the books with the blessings of the Supreme Court.

Govind Krishnan V’s cover story “The cross they bear” reported from Madhya Pradesh and Odisha (the other state where Christians are under attack), shows the way organisations like the Bajrang Dal collude with police and deny citizens the right to peacefully propagate their faiths.
Unless the prime minister’s words result in actions against those from his own fold, they remain mere words, a distraction at best from the real onslaught against Christians especially in BJP-ruled states.

Saurav Kumar, Editor

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