Modi slams religious violence after church attacks

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Indian PM says his govt will not allow any group belonging to majority or minority to incite hatred against other communities

India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi Tuesday pledged a crackdown against religious violence and promised to ensure freedom of worship for all faiths after a series of attacks on churches.

Modi has been heavily criticised for not speaking out earlier against religious violence, especially in the wake of the attacks on at least five churches in the capital New Delhi since December.

But in a speech at a conference organised by Christian groups, Modi condemned religiously motivated violence and promised that his government had equal respect for all faiths in a country that is officially secular.

“I condemn violence against any religion. We will act strongly against such violence,” Modi said at the capital. “My government will not allow any group belonging to majority or minority to incite hatred against other communities,” he added.

Modi has also faced flak for remaining silent over a recent spate of mass “re-conversions” of Muslims to Hinduism, and in his speech, the prime minister said everyone should be free to practice any faith.

“My government will ensure complete freedom of faith and the undeniable right to adopt a religion of choice,” he said.

“Everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence,” Modi added in comments seen as condemning the mass conversions. “We believe not only in religious tolerance but we accept all religions as true,” he said.

Around 80 per cent of India’s 1.2 billion population is Hindu but it is also home to large numbers of Muslims, Christians and Buddhists.

Obama warning:

US President Barack Obama warned on a visit to New Delhi last month that India’s future success was dependent on avoiding splintering along religious lines.

Obama then raised further eyebrows when he said that independence icon Mahatma Gandhi would have been “shocked” by religious attacks in India.

Modi was for years shunned by Western countries after more than 1,000 people were killed in communal violence in Gujarat when he was the state’s chief minister in 2002. Most of the victims were Muslims. While members of his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) continue to face accusations of trying to push a pro-Hindu agenda, the prime minister said he had equal respect for all religions.

“Mine will be a government that gives equal respect to all religions. India is the land of Buddha and Gandhi,” he said. “Equal respect for all religions must be in the DNA of every Indian.”

Father Savarimuthu Sankar, the spokesman for Delhi’s Archbishop Anil Couto, welcomed the prime minister’s comments but he indicated they were long overdue.

“We are very happy that he has finally spoken. We particularly welcome his comments on the issue of religious conversions and freedom to practice any religion of choice,” Sankar said.

“I won’t say (the comments) are timely. We expected him to speak before Christmas when the big attack on the church happened and there were all those controversies on Christian homecomings,” said Sankar. “But we are glad that today he made amply clear that his government will not tolerate violence against any religion.”