India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has expressed “shock” at the criticism levelled at him by an archbishop.
Ahead of state elections this month, Archbishop Thomas Macwan of Gandhinagar, capital of the western state of Gujarat, had written an open letter, citing “ human rights violations” and warning against “nationalist forces”.
He was served notice by the Election Commission, which said he had violated the Model Code of Conduct ahead of an election, but Samson Christian, an activist based in Gujarat, said the complaint against him was “politically motivated”.
Christians account for just 0.52% of Gujarat’s population of 66 million. The majority of the 330,000 Christians are Catholics.
According to poll forecasts, Modi’s BJP, which has long held sway in Gujarat, is facing its first real challenge in 22 years in the present election.
At a rally in Surendranagar on Sunday (10 December), Modi said: “I was shocked to see a religious person releasing a fatwa [edict], saying, ‘Uproot the nationalist forces’. It is rashtra bhakti [nationalism] that guides us to help every Indian in any part of the world.”
He told the audience it had been the value of rashtra bhakti that had inspired the government in “rescuing” Indian citizens from all parts of the world, irrespective of their race, religion or status in life.
Modi highlighted the work his government had done to secure the release of Indian priest Father Tom Uzhunnalil, freed in September after 18 months in captivity in Yemen. On Monday (11 December), Father Uzhunnalil received the Mother Teresa Award 2017 for his “compassionate humanity” and “dedication and commitment” to his work in “a location of great danger”.