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A Humbug's Hug!

Cedric Prakash Cedric Prakash
24 Jun 2024

If not, these passages from Sacred Scripture will help put things in perspective:

And while they were eating, he said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me." They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, "Surely you don't mean me, Lord?" Jesus replied, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray from Sacred Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born. "Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, "Surely you don't mean me, Rabbi?" Jesus answered, "You have said so." (Mt. 26: 21-25) …. While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now, the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: "The one I kiss is the man; arrest him. "Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed him. Jesus replied, "Do what you came for, friend. "Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him (Mt. 26: 47-50).

This powerful and authentic passage from Sacred Scripture shows how the 'kiss of Judas' was the opposite of what a 'kiss' is meant to symbolise. Jesus, who believed and lived 'the truth,' never minced words when he took on the powerful of his times: the scribes and the lawyers, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the Pilates and the Herods. He referred to them as a brood of vipers and whitened sepulchres. In the Gospel of Mathew (23:1-12), we read, "Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it, but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others, but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others, for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers and sisters. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father, the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted."

Every year, the leaders of the world's seven largest economies (and presumably the richest): Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom and the United States (the European Union is also part of this group) meet to discuss economic and political issues at the Group of Seven, or G7, Summit. These annual events are organised and hosted by a different member each time. They met in Apulia, Italy, from 13-15 June this year. The host generally invites some other countries as guests to this Summit. This year, Italy invited Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, India, Jordan, Kenya, Mauritania, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Ukraine and Vatican City. South Africa was also invited but declined because of the change in government there. So, twelve other countries were also present, including the heads of the UN and major financial institutions.

The highlight of this G-7 Summit was the presence of Pope Francis, who addressed them on 'Artificial Intelligence' and its effects on humanity. It was historic that a Pope would participate in such a summit and, in fact, give a path-breaking speech that found prime place in the final communique of the Summit! As the Pope was wheeled into the hall of the Summit on June 14, the World leaders and others gave him a rousing ovation. Some of them personally greeted him with civility and decorum, which is befitting when one head of State greets the other! Towards the end of the line was Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India. Taking the Holy Father off-guard, Modi bends down and gives the Pope what resembles a bear hug! Such acts are just not done! Although he was in a wheelchair, the Pope had no choice but to stay courteous enough to accept the hug! Most of the world media did not highlight it, though sections of the Indian 'godified' and 'modified' media did!

Those who know Modi and his dramatics will readily agree that his hugging the Pope has nothing to do with Pope Francis! Modi is fundamentally a showman and an opportunist who loves photo-ops, glaring at cameras and, at times, even insisting that the cameras focus only on him! There are many examples to authenticate this! For example, some time ago, when he had to meet his ailing mother in Gandhinagar, he only stepped out of his car once the cameramen (who were late) had arrived and taken their positions inside the house! Unfortunately, for him, this time, he was unable to look into the cameras whilst hugging the Pope!

Modi has gone on record saying that he has invited Pope Francis to India! He also said this after he met Pope Francis at the Vatican in late October 2021. Even today, the Government of India has not extended an official invitation to the Pope to come to India! Modi could have easily ensured that but did not do so! Modi is a master at making promises, bluffing and turning things in his favour. Unfortunately, in the past ten years and more, many have fallen prey to his false promises, mastery of words and skill in deflecting from real issues that plague the country!

Millions of Indians (Christians and non-Christians) would be delighted if Pope Francis actually came to India. There is no doubt of that! Besides Pope Francis, given his penchant for the poor and the marginalised, the excluded and the exploited will undoubtedly have his visits and his concerns chalked out; these could include:

•    A visit to Manipur: to bring solace to the Kukis and other victims there, who still are at the receiving end of a brutal, violent regime. Most of the victims are Christians and/or tribals.
•    A visit to Jharkhand, the Adivasi heartland of India - to see how the indigenous people of India are being deprived of their legitimate jal-jungle-zameen.
•    A visit to West Bengal and meet with those Bengalis who came to India more than fifty years ago during the Bangladesh War of Independence.
•    A visit to UP, where Muslims are the victims of a bull-dozer raj just because some meat is apparently found in their fridge and for other flimsy reasons.
•    A visit to Taloja jail, where there are still some incarcerated in the Bhima-Koregaon conspiracy case; his own Jesuit brother Fr Stan Swamy was the victim of an institutional murder on July 5, 2021.
•    A visit to the coastal region of Trivandrum, where thousands of indigenous coastal people have lost their livelihood because of the Adani port.

Besides, Pope Francis' visit will surely raise several questions. They may include:

•    On the Freedom of Speech and expression: how the country's writers, intellectuals, and human rights defenders are subjugated.
•    On the Freedom of Religion: of the draconian anti-conversion laws brought in by this government, particularly in the states they govern (Rajasthan is planning one now).
•    On the way, this government treats refugees and migrants, particularly the Rohingyas – whom Pope Francis addressed as his brothers and sisters.
•    On the government's environmental record, which is one of the worst in the world.
•    On the fact that a few rich are becoming richer at the expense of the poor.
•    On the quality of political life in India and the fact that democracy is meticulously being dismantled.

Wow! Pope Francis will have his plate very full if and when he is invited to India - and if he actually comes! Modi would not have understood the significance and importance of the four gifts which Pope Francis presented him with at the Vatican in October 2021. They were also about 'good governance' and what a good ruler should do today! When Pope Francis addressed the G-7 Summit on June 14 on 'Artificial Intelligence,' he spoke rather strongly, saying, among other things,
"This is precisely where political action is urgently needed. The Encyclical Fratelli Tutti reminds us that "for many people today, politics is a distasteful word, often due to the mistakes, corruption and inefficiency of some politicians. There are also attempts to discredit politics, to replace it with economics or to twist it to one ideology or another. Yet, can our world function without politics? Can there be an effective process of growth towards universal fraternity and social peace without a sound political life?"…. Our answer to these questions is: No! Politics is necessary! I want to reiterate at this moment that "in the face of many petty forms of politics focused on immediate interests [...] 'true statecraft is manifest when, in difficult times, we uphold high principles and think of the long-term common good. Political powers do not find it easy to assume this duty in the work of nation-building' much less in forging a common project for the human family, now and in the future".

My reflection on the effects of artificial intelligence on humanity leads us to consider the importance of "healthy politics" so that we can look to our future with hope and confidence. I have written previously that "global society is suffering from grave structural deficiencies that cannot be resolved by piecemeal solutions or quick fixes. Much needs to change, through fundamental reform and major renewal. Only a healthy politics, involving the most diverse sectors and skills, is capable of overseeing this process. An economy that is an integral part of a political, social, cultural and popular programme directed to the common good could pave the way for 'different possibilities which do not involve stifling human creativity and its ideals of progress, but rather directing that energy along new channels."

I'm not sure if Modi was listening to him or, if he did listen, whether he understood the significance of what was said, particularly in the context of present India! Interestingly, the final communique of the G-7 speaks of many things besides Artificial Intelligence. They include Ukraine, Gaza, Africa, Climate change, and migration—but there is practically no reference to India or the role the country could be playing on the world stage today!

'Humbug' is best described as false talk, hypocritical behaviour, and deception! A 'Humbug's Hug' says it all!


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