'The attacks are based on an unfounded fear'

Published : Dec 19, 1998 00:00 IST

Senior Congress(I) leader and former Speaker of the Lok Sabha P.A. Sangma was in Thiruvananthapuram on December 12 to inaugurate the 49th United Christmas Celebrations organised by the United Christian Movement, Thiruvananthapuram, an umbrella organisation of Christian denominations in the city. He spoke to R. Krishnakumar about the series of attacks against Christian groups and institutions in various parts of the country. Excerpts from the interview:

As a politician and as a Christian, how do you react to the incidents of attacks against Christians in various parts of the country?

The atrocities committed of late on the minorities, particularly Christians, are shocking and shameful. The Central Government is taking the stand that it is a law and order problem. I do not subscribe to this view. It is a calculated move on the part of the different constituents of the Sangh Parivar. It is a well-planned, well-orchestrated attack.

What are the reasons for these attacks?

These attacks have their roots in the ideological and theoretical framework of the Bharatiya Janata Party and its constituents. Their philosophy is against secularism. They propagate cultural nationalism, which, as spelt out in the BJP's manifesto, is one nation, one people and one culture, the ultimate goal being Hindutva. The recent attempt to saffronise the education system is but one example of this. Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Ashok Singhal terms Christians anti-national; he even says that Christians are Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agents. These are serious allegations. He is, however, unable to prove these charges.

Many BJP 'stalwarts' were educated in Christian institutions. If conversion was the objective of these institutions, I do not know how these leaders, including Home Minister L.K. Advani, who is a product of St. Patrick's School, Karachi, still remain Hindus.

The attacks are based on the unfounded fear that Hindus will become a minority and Christians and Muslims the majority.

Do you think the attacks are linked with the BJP coming to power?

Certainly. The fact that the BJP is in power has given them the courage to indulge in such acts. The BJP Government is now manipulating the figures and is arguing in Parliament that the incidents against minorities have, in fact, come down after it came to power.

Do you think the attacks were provoked by conversions?

Freedom of religion is a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution. It means the freedom to worship and to profess and propagate any religion.

As for conversions, they are taking place; we do not deny that. It is quite possible that in areas where people have been absolutely neglected by the system, and have been looked after by missionaries, they ultimately decide to follow this religion. But how many people have done this? That is the important point. The Christian community constitutes only 2.5 per cent of the population. I do not think the rest of the country has any reason to be afraid of it. I do not think conversions are the main reason for the attacks, as has been alleged.

Prime Minister Vajpayee, Advani and even BJP president Kushabhau Thakre have tried to distance themselves from the atrocities committed against minority communities. Can this be an indication that the BJP is distancing itself from the RSS-VHP-Bajrang Dal?

They do not mean what they say. The BJP, minus the RSS, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, is nothing.

Does this mean that you do not attach any value to their statements and the Government's assurances to the Christian community?

No. Vajpayee is a good man, a flexible man. But he will not be allowed to act.

Some people criticise the Congress(I) for what they call the "pampering of the minorities" over the years and cite this as the reason for the "backlash" against the minority communities.

Secularism is the foundation of our nationhood. In a secular nation, minorities will have to be given special protection. So there was no question of 'pampering' the minorities.

Do you think that Hindutva aggressiveness has forced Christian groups to increase their activities vis-a-vis conversions? Do you foresee a dangerous competition building up?

No. However, the recent spurt in atrocities has certainly brought about more cooperation and unity among Christians. I think these incidents will make the Christian community more assertive.

Could you comment on the situation in northeastern India, especially in the context of the VHP's demand that foreign missionaries working in India should go back to their respective countries because they are not only indulging in "forced conversions, but also stoking insurgency" in that region?

Unfortunately, it (the VHP) does not know how many foreign missionaries are there in this country and where they are. The man who made this statement, did he even try to find out these? As for the situation in northeastern India, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram are Christian-dominated States and the question of persecution does not arise there. In the other northeastern States too, Christians are a strong community. From that angle, we can say that the northeastern region has not been affected much, although I know that the BJP has a big plan for that region. One of their plans is to re-convert Christians into Hinduism. In fact I am told that they have earmarked about Rs.500 crores for this purpose. We are quite aware of the designs of the BJP-RSS combine on the northeastern region.

How do you view the responses of the State governments concerned and the Centre to the incidents of attacks against Christians?

Except the attack on nuns in Madhya Pradesh, which was a major incident, the incidents were concentrated in BJP-ruled States, particularly Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. We can safely say that the governments of these States and at the Centre were not active in either combating or controlling the situation. There was certainly a lack of will because they (the perpetrators) were getting their strength from the governments.

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