Promises not enough: PM Modi must walk the talk on religious freedom


Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election victory in the 2014 general election has often been credited to his decision of making stability and development his main poll plank.

Since his victory in May last year, the PM has been sticking to that winning script, utilising every platform to talk about his growth agenda. Yet, there has been a growing disquiet over his “dangerous silence” on the repeated attacks on minority communities, mass conversion of minorities to Hinduism (ghar wapsi programme), love jihad and relentless barbs against minorities by the “loony fringe” of the Sangh parivar.

Mr Modi did not respond even when US President Barack Obama during his visit to India spoke about growing religious intolerance in India and how it can affect the country’s development process.

Against this backdrop, Mr Modi’s address at the National Celebration of the Elevation to Sainthood of Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Mother Euphrasia in New Delhi on Tuesday was definitely the kind of assurance that many have been waiting to hear from the PM for a while now.

At the celebration, the prime minister said that his government will ensure that there is “complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence”.

He added that no religious group would be allowed to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly and that his mantra remains development.

While many feel that the speech is a course-correction, the delay in responding to what has been happening across the country could take sheen off his speech considerably and also raise several uncomfortable questions: What prompted Mr Modi to now say what he should have long ago? Is it because of the drubbing that the BJP got in the assembly elections in Delhi? Or is it because Mr Modi has realised that his development agenda is in the danger losing out to the broader divisive social agenda of the right-wing groups?

The Delhi election results is being seen as a trigger for the speech by detractors because it was only after the sixth attack on a church in the city that Mr Modi summoned the Delhi Police commissioner BS Bassi and directed him to take action with regard to the series of attacks on Christian institutions.

However, promises are not enough. Mr Modi will now have to walk the talk: Take strong and visible action against all those disruptive elements in the Sangh who are trying to destabilise the country and systematically attacking the very idea of India.