In the comments on a political proposition on mainstream as well as social media, one observes more often than not that the Christian and Muslim respondents speak in one voice — critical of the current dispensation — whereas the Hindu voice is divided. This strange interfaith bonhomie, peculiar to India, must be studied in the light of attacks of Islamist terrorists across Europe, at times in the United States and now in Indonesia, where Christians by and large are at the receiving end. Islamic terrorism is a global menace, and we use the term “Islamic” consciously and responsibly, as the aim of the attackers is establishment of Islam by instilling fear in the minds of other people. A Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Zoroastrian or Sikh wielding a gun for an objective other than making his or her religion prevail is respectively not a Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Zoroastrian or Sikh terrorist. How many members of a community disagree with the terrorist in their midst is immaterial as the disagreement is not vehement enough to stop the menace; had moderation been the prevailing sentiment in the community, Islamic terrorism would have ended the way Sikh terrorism ended in Punjab or Ku Klux Klan could not sustain its ‘movement’ in the US. The forthright manner in which political heads in the West condemn this religious terrorism by naming it and the social condemnation that follows beg the question as to what brings Christians and Muslims together in India. They may not be one in damning Hindus, but they certainly are in deploring the Narendra Modi government. Setting nostalgia about the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime aside, they were not voting for the BJP in national and State elections in the period 1998-2004 either. In fact, the attacks on the BJP-led NDA government by the American and British media were no less vicious during the Vajpayee rule.
Christians may constitute a numerically insignificant minority in this country unlike Muslims, except in Kerala, Goa and most States in the Northeast, but given the fact that their sentiment echoes internationally, the BJP and Hindu right wing must formulate a strategy of perception management to deal with the situation. If the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid alienated the Muslims from them — many of them must have voted for the coalition led by VP Singh in 1989, of which the BJP was a part — the murder of Australian Christian missionary Graham Staines and his sons by Dara Singh, Mahendra Hembram and an accompanying lynch mob led to what now seems an unassailable distance with today’s ruling party. Those peeved with 6 December 1992 were joined by those that 22 January 1999 scarred for life. Now, the fact that certain regions of the country smart from campaigns of mass conversions to Christianity does not serve the cause of reconciliation. It is arguably easier to convince a north Indian, for example, that Christianity is relatively benign. Persuading a Hindu in Kerala, Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Manipur, Nagaland or Mizoram to believe so wouldn’t be easy. Nevertheless, now there is more than a critical mass of Hindu ideologues that can fight misguidance of the poor by ‘soul harvesters’ by making the marginalised sections of society repose their trust in their traditional belief system. This would take as much of financial aid and development of a social support system that the Church provides to its affiliated believers as it would demand theological persuasion that busts the myth of Hinduism being a pagan faith. Violence against the evangelists cannot be condoned, in the least be justified.
It is doubtful that the collective intellect of the current government would permit a nuanced and effective strategy. The way this government looked apologetic in the face of the propaganda of attacks on churches early during its tenure dashes all hope. While Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley — whom many believe to be No. 2 in this dispensation — had written a cogent blog, blaming governments of various States not ruled by the BJP for failing to protect the minorities around that time, no policy to lessen the trust deficit with Christians seems to have been put in place. As a result, Christians, who would be persecuted and butchered in Islamic states if they were to live in those countries, continue to stand in solidarity with Muslims when it comes to practising Indian politics. The persistence of this issue for decades reflects poorly on the thinking heads of the BJP. The fruits of the establishment of Rashtriya Isai Sangh in 2016 along the lines of Muslim Rashtriya Manch are not visible yet, and a reason for that is identification of the wrong churches. The mainstream Christians in Kerala and Goa alike complain that the Christian clerics the Sangh and BJP leaders are pally with belong to churches that represent fringe denominations. In a world witnessing bipolar tensions and strife on different planes — US-versus-China in international relations and Clash of Civilisations of Samuel P Huntington’s definition — neither Hindus as a whole nor the RSS as a part can afford this disconnect. It is naïve to invite upon oneself a two-front war, let alone fight it.