NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed on Tuesday to protect all religious groups, an apparent response to a series of attacks on Christian institutions in New Delhi fuelling concerns that minorities are being targeted by Hindu zealots.
Critics say that Modi’s government, which is led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has failed to protect religious minorities and rein in Hindu extremists emboldened by its election victory last year.
“I condemn all incidents of violence where religious minorities were targeted,” Modi told an event organised by the Christian community to celebrate the beatification of two Indians by Pope Francis late last year.
“No religious group can incite violence … my government will ensure there is complete freedom of faith.”
Modi, a self-proclaimed Hindu nationalist, rarely attends events organised by minority communities.
His decision to appear among Christians followed a drubbing for his party in elections to the Delhi local assembly last week, where it won just three of 70 seats, raising concerns that it could face setbacks in other state elections on the horizon.
The poll took place against the backdrop of a clash between police and priests, nuns and parishioners who were protesting over a series of vandalism and arson attacks on churches.
“My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly,” Modi said.
Modi pledged firm action against perpetrators of religious attacks and warned against efforts to incite hatred of minorities Tuesday after a series of attacks on churches.
“I condemn violence against any religion. We will act strongly against such violence,” Modi said at a conference organised by Christian groups in the capital New Delhi.
“My government will not allow any group belonging to majority or minority to incite hatred against other communities,” he said.
Modi, who has been heavily criticised for not speaking out earlier against religious violence, said everyone should be free to practice any faith in a country that is officially secular but has a mainly Hindu population.
“My government will ensure complete freedom of faith and the undeniable right to adopt a religion of choice,” said the prime minister.
“Everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence,” Modi added.