The meeting between Christian Church leaders in Kerala and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, April 24, has been “very successful.”
This was the assessment of Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church.
“We shared the anxieties we have regarding our mission work in north India that is being hindered by religious fundamentalists,” said the cardinal.
The prelate said he told the prime minister about the Church’s concern over attacks on Christians, the discrimination of Dalit people, and the problems faced by farmers and fisherfolk.
The cardinal said the prime minister listened with an open mind.
Archbishop Joseph Joy Kalathiparambil of Verapoly described the meeting as a “heartwarming experience.”
Modi, however, remains silent about the growing number of hate crimes in the country.
Incidents of violence against Christians has increased from a little over 100 in 2014 to 600 by the end of 2022. The first quarter of this year has already witnessed 200 incidents of attacks, according to persecution watchdog United Christian Forum (UCF).
On Easter Sunday, Modi visited the Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi, a move that critics say is an attempt to connect with the Christian community ahead of the elections.
The prime minister’s political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has been bolstered by its successful performance in polls in Christian-dominated Nagaland and Meghalaya last month.
“I am sure in the coming years, as it has happened in Meghalaya and Nagaland and has been happening in Goa, the BJP’s alliance will form a government in Kerala,” he said.
Shyju Anthony, a lay leader in Kerala, said Modi’s meeting with Christian leaders was just an “eyewash.”
“None of the issues Christian face was addressed. He just nodded to what the bishops said. The meeting lasted only 20 minutes. How much can be discussed in such a short time?” said Anthony.
“The BJP goes with the majority population. If Christians are majority in a state, they will want to woo them, if Muslims are in majority they would try to appease them for votes,” he added.
“If he was genuinely concerned, he would have restrained the pro-Hindu fringe groups from committing hate crimes against Christians,” said Anthony.
Michael Williams, UCF president, said the meeting with Christian leaders was “highly symbolic of the upcoming parliamentary elections.”
“We will have to wait and watch if in the coming months there is a stop to persecution and the anti-conversion laws under which over 500 Christians find themselves in jail, unable to get bail due to false accusations,” said Williams.
“We want to see all these cases rolled back. The taste of the pudding is in the eating,” he said.
The BJP has not been successful in making inroads into Kerala. The only time, the pro-Hindu party won a legislative assembly seat in Kerala was in 2016, but lost it in 2021.
Christians comprise 18 percent of the population of Kerala while Muslims form 26 percent.