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“It is not right in God’s sight to obey men rather than God.”

Modi vows to protect all religious minorities

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday vowed 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.

“I condemn all incidents of violence where religious minorities were targeted,” Modi told an event organised by the Christian community at the Vigyan Bhavan to celebrate the canonisation of two Keralites – Fr Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Sister Euphrasia Eluvathingal – by Pope Francis late last year.

“No religious group can incite violence ... my government will ensure there is complete freedom of faith. Everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence,” he added.

“India has tradition of welcoming all religions. Religious extremism is a global concern. My government will stand by this declaration. The government is duty bound to preserve the constitution. 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.

Critics say that Modi’s government, which is led by BJP, has failed to protect religious minorities and rein in Hindu extremists emboldened by its election victory last year. Modi 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.

Last week, Modi summoned Delhi police commissioner bs Bassi after a sixth attack on a Christian building, but leaders of the community complained that he needed to do more to make them feel safe in a country that enshrines secularism despite its Hindu majority.

About a fifth of India's 1.27 billion people identify themselves as belonging to faiths other than Hinduism. Religious conversions under the 'Ghar Wapsi' programme by Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) have become a sensitive issue in recent months after Hindu outfits said Hinduism was under threat and started a campaign to convince Christians and Muslims to change their faith.

Last month, US president Barack Obama pointedly warned during a trip to India against religious intolerance and said the country's success depended on its not splintering along religious lines.