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Government will ensure complete freedom of faith: Modi

New Delhi

17-February-2015

Coming out unequivocally for the first time against recent attacks on churches and controversial utterances by right-wing fringe elements, Prime Minister Narendra Modi Tuesday said his government will ensure complete freedom of faith and will not allow any religious group to incite hatred against others "overtly or covertly".

Addressing Christian leaders at a function here, the prime minister reached out to them, saying he strongly condemned violence against any religion.

"My government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence. My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly," the prime minister said.

"Mine will be a government that gives equal respect to all religions," the prime minister said, breaking his long silence on the subject.

"We cannot accept violence against any religion on any pretext and I strongly condemn such violence. My government will act strongly in this regard," he added.

Modi has been facing flak for not speaking out strongly against saffron fringe elements of his Bharatiya Janata Party-led government who have kicked up a controversy by peddling the Hindutva agenda and by their comments on "ghar wapsi", or return to the Hindu faith.

Addressing a function to mark the 'National Celebration of the Elevation to Sainthood of Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Mother Euphrasia', Modi said his government stands by "every word" of the Universal Declaration and of freedom of religion or belief.

"India is the land of Buddha and Gandhi. Equal respect for all religions must be in the DNA of every Indian. We cannot accept violence against any religion on any pretext and I strongly condemn such violence. My government will act strongly in this regard," Modi said.

He also appealed to all religious groups "to act with restraint, mutual respect, and tolerance in the true spirit of this ancient nation which is manifest in our Constitution and is in line with the Hague Declaration".

Christian leaders immediately welcomed Modi's remarks and hoped they would translate into action.

Fr. Savarimuthu Sankar, Catholic Archdiocese Church, told IANS: "The general feeling is that everyone is happy that finally he has spoken. Although it's late because we wanted him to speak before Christmas last year. We hope his words are translated into action."

In the most recent attack, the Holy Child Auxilium school in south Delhi was ransacked by unidentified people Feb 13. It was the sixth incident of attack on churches and a school in Delhi over a period of two months.

Modi had summoned Police Commissioner B.S. Bassi asking him to speed up investigation in the incidents of vandalism and bring the guilty to book.

Following the attacks, Christian leaders claimed that their community was being subjected to intentional attacks and attempts were being made to instil fear among them.

The BJP also faced its first electoral debacle after its winning spree in the general elections last year when it fared miserably in the Feb 7 Delhi assembly elections, despite Modi being one of the main campaigners.

Modi said that to realize his vision of a modern India and to ensure development, unity is an essential ingredient. "Unity strengthens us. Division weakens us. I sincerely request all Indians, and all of you present here to support me in this huge task," he said.

Lauding the two saints for dedicating their lives to the service of God and fellow beings, Modi described the lives and deeds of Saint Chavara and Saint Euphresia as "inspiration" to humanity. - IANS