Skip to main content

Why visit of Prime Minister to Cathedral was but one of 'sheer' political opportunism

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ* 

‘Opportunism’ is normally defined as “the practice of using situations unfairly to get an advantage for yourself without thinking about the consequences, of how your actions will affect other people”.
At a different and far serious level is ‘political opportunism’ which is based on the political philosophy of Niccolò Machiavelli, as described in “The Prince” and which is often regarded as a classic manual of opportunist scheming; a Machiavellian is nowadays ‘a cunning, immoral, and opportunist person’; today, several of our politicians very easily fit the bill.
Political opportunism therefore refers ‘to the attempt to maintain political support, or to increase political influence, possibly in a way which disregards relevant ethical or political principles. At the top, are those who have mastered the art of political chicanery- and we all know who!
So, when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a visit to the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Delhi on 9 April 2023, Easter Sunday, it definitely raised several eyebrows and more! Not that it was unique in any way. Prime Ministers and Presidents of India have visited Churches and participated in Christian religious events before; besides, it is within their legitimate right to visit and even pray not only in a Church, but also in a mosque, in a gurudwara or in fire- temple!
We have that classic image of Pope Francis praying in the Blue Dome Mosque in Istanbul. There is the fact that once the Prime Minister expresses his desire to visit a Church, the Church authorities would certainly do everything within their means, with the ceremony and protocol. to accord a welcome befitting of the office of the Prime Minister.
The reality in India, however, is different today. Given the constant attacks on the minuscule Christian population today, no one is willing to accept (with the exception of the gullible, the naive and the ‘bhakts ‘) that the visit of the Prime Minister to the Cathedral was but one of sheer ‘political opportunism’.
The attacks on Christians in India today (and also on other minorities, particularly the Muslims) take place with frightening regularity. These are not aberrations or isolated instances, as even some of the Christian prelates have the spinelessness to make them out to be. Christians in several BJP -- ruled states are hounded and harassed; prayer services are disrupted; places of prayer and worship are demolished; false cases are foisted on pastors and Christian worshippers.
The votaries of the Sangh Parivar spew hate and instigate violence on the Christians. Then we have the draconian and unconstitutional anti -conversion laws that have been promulgated in several states that denies one the Fundamental right to legitimately preach, practise and propagate one’s religion. The Constitutional provisions of rights to minorities are downscaled and are even being scrapped altogether. There is substantial documentation to evidence all of this.
It is important to note that those who indulge in the attacks against Christians, do so, because they know that nothing will happen to them! They have all the protection and immunity they need from their political bosses. They attack with impunity because they know they have the immunity!
FIRs are not registered against these goons as we saw in the blatant intimidation of a couple of Catholic schools in Gujarat a few weeks ago. Many Christians are certainly not ready to accept second - class citizenship in a country which belongs to them and are fighting for their Constitutional rights. There was a massive protest in Delhi against the persecution of Christians in mid- February and one in Bombay as recently as 12 April!
The Prime Minister is in the know of all this! If he has any genuine concern for the Christian citizens of the country he should first openly and directly stop his regimes and ilk for all the irreparable harm that is being done not only to the Christians, but to the Constitution of the country, and particularly to its pluralistic fabric.
He should be publicly stating, over and over again, that no one would be spared for demonizing, denigrating, discriminating against the minorities particularly the Christians and Muslims; and ensure appropriate action on them!
Visiting a Church, lighting a candle before the statue of the Risen Lord, listening to an English hymn are all good, if done in the right spirit and attitude. Otherwise, they are mere ‘theatrics and this Prime Minister, the world knows, is high on drama.
What did he say when he visited the Cathedral? Did he assure the bishops and the others present, that he would abide by the Constitution and would protect their Constitutional rights and freedoms at whatever the cost?
There is absolutely no record in the print or electronic media of what the Prime Minister said -- just visuals: photo-ops for all! The fact is that the elections in Karnataka and Kerala are due shortly and that General elections will take place in 2024 -- is not lost on concerned citizens of the country and particularly on discerning political analysts. It is also interesting to see what the Bishops who welcomed the Prime Minister had to say to him. 
Were there only pleasantries and small talk (and some ‘prayers’) exchanged? Could not the Bishops have made it an occasion to highlight and in writing, the abysmal depths the country has fallen to in every sphere -- and particularly the lot of the poor and the marginalised, the small farmers and the migrant workers, the excluded and the exploited?
Should they have not made a strong statement on the plight of the Christians (and the Muslims) in India? Here was certainly a golden opportunity which was badly missed; a real opportunity which cannot be compared with the political opportunism of the Prime Minister!
Interestingly, it is good to be reminded that Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi who was the main prelate to welcome the Prime Minister to the Cathedral, wrote a letter to his diocese on 8 May 2018. At that time the country was burning with several issues as it is today. The modified media instead of taking on the Government on its lack of governance took on the Archbishop and made his innocuous letter prime time news.
In his letter, Archbishop Couto requested special prayers until the General Elections of 2019. The letter was a call for prayer beginning on “May 13, 2018 which marks the Anniversary of the Apparition of the Blessed Mother at Fatima, consecrating ourselves and our nation to the Immaculate Heart”.
At that time most thinking citizens had the following conclusions to make:
  • As an Indian citizen, the Archbishop has every right to voice his opinions/views
  • As the Archbishop of Delhi, it is his duty to be a Pastor and instruct the Catholics under his care both on spiritual and temporal matters
  • It is an age-old practice for Bishops all over the world to send out Circular or Pastoral Letters before any major event (including elections) which could affect their people in any way!
  • The letter clearly does NOT take sides; does not name any political party; does not tell people whom to vote for
  • The letter is addressed to a particular group of people (that is the Catholics of Delhi) it is directional in nature; a request and certainly not mandatory
  • The letter is a call to prayer! (anything wrong with that?)
Archbishop Anil begins his letter with the words, “We are witnessing a turbulent political atmosphere which poses a threat to the democratic principles enshrined in our Constitution and the secular fabric of our nation.” 
There is absolutely no record in the print or electronic media of what the Prime Minister said -- just visuals
There could not be perhaps a better opening statement, so down-to-earth, so contextual -- which sets the tone of why one needs to pray and fast. Can one deny the fact that what we witness in India is not ‘a turbulent political atmosphere’?
When a ‘few’ decide what one should eat and wear; see and write; or whom to worship; when the very core of the country’s secular and pluralistic fabric stands to be destroyed; when all that is sacred in the Constitution is being eroded – how can one ever abstain from making such a statement? It is a sin not to do so.
It would be appropriate at this juncture that Archbishop Anil and in fact all the Bishops of India should write another relevant pastoral letter (in the lines of Pope Francis) and in the context of the realities which today have gripped the nation.
Can the Church take a visible and vocal stand on the brutal murder of Atique Ahmed and several others in encounters by the State of Uttar Pradesh? Should we not speak out about the thousands of Christian and Muslim names missing from the Electoral rolls in Karnataka? What is the stand of the Church on corruption – and on the manner in which the likes of Adani have looted the nation? Can we dare accompany the likes of Bilkis Bano in her relentless struggle for justice? 
Many issues and many more unanswered questions!
Mohan Bhagwat, the Supremo of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), is very clear of his agenda: to make of India a state based on the ‘Hindutva’ ideology. He has been using every possible occasion to lambast Christianity, missionaries and foreigners.
On 17 April, addressing a gathering in Burhanpur, Madhya Pradesh he slammed the missionaries saying that the missionaries took advantage of the situations wherein people feel the society is not with them, in an apparent reference to ‘religious conversions.’
On Ambedkar Jayanti (14 April) addressing a gathering of RSS workers in Ahmedabad, without decrying the caste system he said, “we were once united, but we created divisions in the form of castes which were later widened by foreigners. For the progress of our country, we must strive to become one again.”
On Good Friday (7 April) at a three-day Rashtriya Sewa Sangam of the RSS in Jaipur, once again took on the Christians, saying that, “when we talk of services, common people mention the names of missionaries who run schools and many organizations across the world. However, the service rendered by Hindu saints are no less. It came to my notice that the services of the saints who are engaged in spiritual works in four states of south India are many times more than the service of the missionaries put together.”
St Oscar Romero was a bishop of and for his suffering people. He was brutally gunned down by the brutal regime of his country El Salvador on 24 March 1980. The day before he was killed in his Sunday homily, he called out to his government saying, “In the name of God, and in the name of his suffering people; those who have suffered so much and whose laments cry out to heaven with greater intensity each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression immediately!”
The Christian hierarchy and clerics have much to learn from Romero; in India today, we desperately need to emulate his prophetic courage based on the person and message of Jesus.
The American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti in his poem ‘Pity the Nation’ puts it incisively:
“Pity the nation whose people are sheep
And whose shepherds mislead them
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars
Whose sages are silenced
And whose bigots haunt the airwaves
Pity the nation that raises not its voice
Except to praise conquerors
And acclaim the bully as hero
And aims to rule the world
By force and by torture
Pity the nation that knows
No other language but its own
And no other culture but its own
Pity the nation whose breath is money
And sleeps the sleep of the too well fed
Pity the nation oh pity the people
who allow their rights to erode
and their freedoms to be washed away
My country, tears of thee
Sweet land of liberty!”

His poem is truly worth reflecting upon given the reality we are gripped with today as a nation Succumbing to sheer political opportunism will be the death knell of our nation. We need to awake now -- before its too late!
*Human rights, reconciliation and peace activist/ writer



A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site The article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

Attack on Gaza: Western media 'went out of the way' to obscure, protect perpetrators

By Sonali Kolhatkar*  Israeli forces killed more than a hundred Palestinians and wounded more than 700 on February 29, 2024 during a distribution of food aid in Gaza city, pushing the Palestinian death toll to 30,000 since October 7, 2023. The food aid massacre was straightforward in its deadliness as armed Israeli forces aimed weapons at desperate, hungry Palestinian civilians and killed many of them. It was also plausible within the context of who has firepower and who doesn’t, and wholly consistent with Israeli atrocities, especially those committed since October 7, 2023.

Living standards in 'model' Gujarat worse than major states: Govt of India document

By Rajiv Shah  Amidst raging controversy over whether the latest Government of India’s “Household Consumption Expenditure Survey 2022-23 Fact Sheet: August 2022-July 2023” suggests that India’s poverty levels are actually down to 4.5 to 5%  during the decade-long Narendra Modi rule, a state-wise breakup in the 27-page document shows that “model” Gujarat’s average consumption expenditure is far below most of the so-called developed states.

India second best place to invest, next to UAE, yet there is 'lacks support' for IT services

By Sreevas Sahasranamam, Aileen Ionescu-Somers*  The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the best place in the world to start a new business, according to the latest annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey. The Arab nation is number one for the third year in a row thanks to a big push by the government into cutting-edge technology in its efforts to diversify away from oil.

Not livable in summer, Chitrakut PM-Awas houses 'push' tribals in moneylender trap

By Bharat Dogra*  Those who are in-charge of implementing the PM-Awas scheme of rural housing can rightly take pride in what has been achieved in Dafai hamlet (Karvi block, Chitrakut district, Uttar Pradesh). All the Kol tribal families here are extremely poor and vulnerable. In a rare achievement, almost all of them have received housing assistance under PM Awas. 

Stressing on standardisation, efficiency, capitalists 'intensify' workers' exploitation

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*  The productivist ideology lies at the core of the profit-making pyramid of capitalism. It perpetuates a relentless cycle characterized by busy schedules, workplace tension, an imbalance in work-life equilibrium, and a pervasive sense of alienation. 

Development? This tribal hamlet in Chitrakut has no toilets, no electricity connections yet

By Bharat Dogra*  As we moved away from the starting point of the Bundelkhand Expressway and a famous pilgrimage site into a side-road, the hills of Chitrakut here appeared to be more and more isolated. Another turn, and we appeared to have reached almost a dead-end. However it is here that over 80 households of the Kol tribal community have been living for a long time.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

WTO 'loses legitimacy': CSOs shut out of normal participation in MC13 at Abu Dhabi

By Deborah James  Given unprecedented repression of participants, the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) at Abu Dhabi should not continue until historical and international standards and human rights for participation in global governance are restored.