Every Indian, who wishes to see India grow in unity, strength and prosperity, will be concerned over the implications of the emergence of a growing Hindu-Christian divide in the Indian civil society.
2. The recent shocking incidents of violence in some parts of the State of Orissa have brought home to us the extent to which the poison inthe relations between the two communities has spread. What one saw in Orissa was nothing less than a mini version of what one saw inGujarat in 2002.
3. In Gujarat, the massacre of a group of Hindu pilgrims travelling in a railway compartment by a group of Muslim fanatics when the trainhad stopped at a railway station called Godhra, led to widespread retaliatory attacks on members of the Muslim community in different partsof the State. The brutal violence witnessed during these incidents committed initially by the Muslims and subsequently by the Hindus shouldbe a matter of shame to us as a nation.
4. In Orissa, the brutal murder of a highly-respected leader of the Hindu community belonging to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) by a groupof suspected Christian elements led to widespread attacks by members of the Hindu community----most of them allegedly belonging to theVHP--- on the Christan community. The casualties in Orissa were thankfully small as compared to those in Gujarat in 2002, but the brutalitywitnessed on both sides----initially by alleged Christian elements and subsequently by alleged VHP members--- was no less disturbing thanwhat one had seen in Gujarat in 2002.
5. The seeds of the Hindu-Muslim divide were initially sown by the British during the pre-1947 colonial days. It resulted in the creation ofPakistan and the subsequent violent incidents between the Hindu and Muslim communities in different parts of India. The jihadi terrorismwitnessed in different parts of India since the demolition of the Babri Masjid by a group of Hindus in December,1992,marked a new phase inthe continuing divide between some sections of the Hindus and the Muslims. Forunately, this mental divide remained confined to smallsections of the two communities. The two communities as a whole have till now not allowed the attempts of these small sections to spreadthis poison further to succeed. One of the objectives of the repeated jihadi terrorist strikes is to aggravate this divide.
6. The seeds of the Hindu-Christian divide were sown much later---long after India became independent. Even in the 1950s and the 1960s,there were concerns over the objectionable activities of foreign Christian missionaries in Indian territory. These activities perceived asobjectionable not only by large sections of the Hindu community, but also by the intelligence and security agencies and by highly-respected leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi consisted of attempts to indulge in large -scale conversion of underprivileged Hindusand animist tribals in Central India into Christianity with the help of large, unrestricted flow of funds from the Vatican and from Catholic andBaptist organisations in the US and the role played by foreign missionaries such as the late Rev.Michael Scot in instigating the insurgency in the North-East where many of the inhabitants in Nagaland and Mizoram are Baptists.
7. Just as the flow of money from so-called Muslim charity organisations in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Muslim countries sought tosustain and aggravate the divide between the Muslims and the Hindus, projected as infidels, and to promote jihadi terrorism in Indianterritory, the flow of money from the Vatican and Christian missionary and fundamentalist organisations in the West tended to create amental divide between the Hindus and the Christians and promote and sustain the insurgency in our North-East.
8. But the leaders of India in the post-independence years sought to see that the concerns over the role of the foreign Christian missionariesand the massive funds at their disposal did not create unwarranted suspicions in the minds of the Hindu community against their Christianfellow-citizens. They realised that if they allowed such suspicions to appear in the relations between the two communities, they would onlybe playing into the hands of foreign missionary organisations, which wanted to create a mental divide. They refrained from viewing ourChristian fellow-citizens as surrogates of the foreign missionary organisations.
9. This conscious attempt not to allow suspicions about foreign Christian missionary organisations create prejudices in our mind about ourChristian fellow-citizens started disappearing after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led coalition came to power in Delhi in 1998. For thefirst time, there was a greater aggressiveness and less sensitivity in the interactions between the Christian organisations----foreign as wellas indigenous-- and Hindu organisations such as the VHP. It would be incorrect to blame the Government of A.B.Vajpayee for thisdevelopment. No Government policy directly encouraged this development. But the silence of the Government in the face of an aggressivecampaign against certain aspects of the activities of Christian organisations and against certain elements of the Christian community bythe VHP indirectly led to the emergence of the first signs of a mental divide between the two communities. I was myself a witness to thispost-1998 aggressive anti-Christian campaign by the VHP on some occasions.
10. This aggressive campaign by the VHP led to an equally aggressive counter-campaign by some of the indigenous Christian organisations against the VHP and those associated with it, directly or indirectly. Some members of the community of Indian origin in the US---Hindus aswell as Christians--- joined this campaign, with the Hindus in the US supporting the VHP and the Christians of Indian origin in the USsupporting anti-VHP organisations.
11. From an anti-conversion campaign, which in my view is justified if peaceful and in accordance with law, it took on additional dimensionsof a disturbing nature. One such dimension was anti-Vatican. Sonia Gandhi, who before 1998 was projected as of Italian origin and henceunsuitable to be the Prime Minister of India, was post-1998 sought to be projected as a Roman Catholic with suspected ties to the Vatican.She was projected as the source of the greater aggressiveness exhibited by the Christian organisations. There was a discernible attempt tomerge the anti-Christian and the anti-Sonia campaigns.
12. This aggression and counter-aggression, rhetoric and counter-rhetoric totally lacking in a sense of balance between the VHP on the oneside and some Christian organisations on the other threaten to create fresh pockets of social and religious disharmony in the alreadyfragile Indian society. If India is to take its place as an important power in the world and as the equal, if not the better, of China, it isimportant for all right-thinking people----whatever be their religion or language or political background--- to come together to strongly opposethese new divisive trends in our society and nation.
13. The Hindus constitute the preponderant majority of this nation with 80 per cent of the population. India is their homeland and they haveevery right to protect their interests and to safeguard the essentially Hindu nature of this country. They have a right to have organisationssuch as the VHP to help them in doing so. At the same time, they have an important responsibility to carry out their activities in a peacefulmanner in such a way as not to add to the divisions in our society. We have to find ways of making the interests of different religious groupsand communities compatible with each other and not antagonistic to each other.
14. The way the VHP and the Christian organisations determined to oppose it are carrying on their activities is threatening to create more pockets of mutual antagonism than pockets of unity and harmony. This is not good for India.(3-9-08)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For TopicalStudies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )