‘Opportunism’ is best described 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 level is ‘political opportunism’ which is based on the political philosophy of Niccolo Machiavelli as described in The Prince and which is often regarded as a classic manual of opportunist scheming; a Machiavellian is nowadays defined as "a cunning, amoral, and opportunist person” and several politicians today 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.
So when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a visit to the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Delhi on Easter Sunday, it definitely raised eyebrows and more! It is not that Prime Ministers of India have not visited Churches before; they certainly have done so; besides it is within their legitimate right to visit and even pray not only in a church, but also in a mosque, in a gurdwara or in a fire- temple. We have that classic image of Pope Francis praying in the Blue Dome mosque in Istanbul. On the other hand, it is naturally expected that once the Prime Minister expresses his desire to visit a Church, the Church authorities would leave no stone unturned to accord a welcome befitting of the office of the Prime Minister, with all the necessary protocol.
Times in India are, however, different today. Given the constant attacks the minuscule Christian population faces today, no one is ready to accept (with the exception of the gullible, the naive and his blind ‘bhakts’) that the visit of the Prime Minister to the Cathedral was not one of ‘sheer 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 some of the Christian prelates 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 deny one the fundamental right to legitimately preach, practise and propagate one’s religion. The Constitutional provisions of rights to minorities are down-scaled and even being scrapped all together. There is substantial documentation to prove all of these.
It is important to note that those who indulge in 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. FIRs are not registered against them as we saw in the blatant intimidation of a couple of Catholic schools in Gujarat a few weeks ago. Some Christians are certainly not ready to accept second class citizenship in a country which belongs to them. There was a massive protest in Delhi in February and in Bombay as recently as April 12 against the persecution of Christians.
If the Prime Minister has any genuine concern for the Christian citizens of the country he should have publicly stated that no one would be spared for demonizing, denigrating, discriminating against the minorities, particularly the Christians and the Muslims.
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’. What did the Prime Minister 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, whatever be 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 some other States are due shortly and general elections will take place in 2024; this is not lost on concerned citizens of the country and particularly 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’)? Could not the Bishops make it an occasion to highlight in writing the abysmal depths the country has fallen to in every sphere -- specially the plight of the poor and the marginalised, the excluded and the exploited?
Should they have not made a strong statement on the plight of the Christians in India? Here was certainly a golden opportunity which they missed.
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, had written a letter to his diocese on May 8, 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, the Archbishop 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 Catholics of Delhi); it is directional in nature; a request and certainly not mandatory;
*The letter is a call to prayer.
Archbishop Anil began 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 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 should write another relevant pastoral letter (in the lines of Pope Francis) and in the context of the realities which have gripped the country.
St Oscar Romero was a bishop of his suffering people. He was gunned down by the brutal regime of his country El Salvador on March 24, 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!”
Christian prelates and clerics in India need to urgently emulate St Oscar Romero’s prophetic courage based on the person and message of Jesus.
On Good Friday, at a three-day Rashtriya Sewa Sangam of the RSS in Jaipur, RSS Supremo Mohan Bhagwat once again took on the Christians. In keeping with the RSS ideology, in his address he said: “When we talk of services, common people mention the names of missionaries who run schools and many organizations across the world. However, the services 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.”
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 succumbing to sheer political opportunism will be the death knell of our nation. We need to awake now.
(Fr Cedric Prakash SJ is a Human Rights, Reconciliation and Peace activist/writer. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)