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PM’S PAPAL PONDER

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Modi made a hearty invitation to the Pope to visit India in near future on camera and the Pope responded with utmost humility. “You have given me the greatest gift,” said the Pope to Modi. Back in 2016, a papal visit failed. The Pope wanted to visit India – though he visited Bangladesh and Myanmar but Catholic religious leaders in India couldn’t convince PM Modi to invite the Pope. This time it happened and in style.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on a visit to Europe but what has caught the attention back home is his mesmerizing meeting with Pope Francis in the Vatican City. The warmth and vitality of the meeting can be gauged from the fact that it was scheduled for 20 minutes but went for more than an hour. 

Modi made a hearty invitation to the Pope to visit India in near future on camera and the Pope responded with utmost humility. “You have given me the greatest gift,” said the Pope to Modi. Back in 2016, a papal visit failed. The Pope wanted to visit India – though he visited Bangladesh and Myanmar but Catholic religious leaders in India couldn’t convince PM Modi to invite the Pope. This time it happened and in style. 

Few months ago, the United States placed India alongside Pakistan and China in terms of religious freedom that is available to people in the country. Modi’s warm meeting with Pope Francis is expected to send a warm signal to Washington DC and the rest of the Christian world. 

But more than what the US says, we are more interested in the politics that may be hidden in this meeting. 

In the present religious-political set up, Christianity is not an unfit for the BJP or RSS’s scheme of things. In fact, they have garnered more Christian support in the recent past – look at Goa and the North Eastern states where the NDA has made a sweep in elections. Dattatreya Hosabale, RSS stalwart, has already declared the meeting a specimen of ‘vasudhaivkutumbakam.’

The BJP wants to breach into Kerala just as they did in West Bengal to eat up the space of Congress and Left. Just recently Kerala’s Bishop held that ‘love jihad’ is a reality in the state. The Christian population in India is more than 2.5 crores and in Kerala it stands at more than 18 per cent of the total population. Hence, the saffron party would like to see a movement of Christians from the Congress or the Left to the BJP, the way it happened in Goa, a brother state on western coasts not very far from Kerala. Islamic radicalisation is highest in Kerala which is apparent from the fact that most of the ISIS recruits from India are from Kerala – both men and women. 

Kerala Catholic Bishop’s Council has already shown its ecstasy for the PM's visit to the Vatican. There are reports that the top Christian clergy and leadership of the saffron party are already in talks in the southern state. 

This will not be all easy for the BJP. The saffron party has been battling mass religious conversions in the tribal areas and interiors – missionaries are being arrested and prosecuted – and states, just as Karnataka, are creating tough anti-conversion laws. It will be interesting to see how Modi will walk the tightrope between realizing politico-diplomatic benefit and placating his parent body – the RSS.

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