NEW DELHI — Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal of Trivandrum, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, urged Catholics not to prejudge Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose political party is known for espousing Hindu nationalism.
"The prime minister's moratorium on violence (based on religious intolerance) in his Independence Day speech is very a positive one," Cardinal Thottunkal, major archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, told media Aug. 19, after meeting the prime minister the previous day.
"It is not proper to prejudge the prime minister. Let us wait and watch the government action. The new government needs time to settle down," he said.
The cardinal was fielding media questions about whether Modi's remarks on the need for tolerance could be taken at face value after what had happened in Gujarat when he headed the state government.
In 2002, when Modi was Gujarat's chief minister, he was criticized for failing to control anti-Muslim violence after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was set on fire. Officially, the violence resulted in the deaths of 790 Muslims and more than 250 Hindus, although some put the figures much higher.
In his Independence Day message Aug. 15, Modi called for a 10-year "moratorium on caste and communal violence" and told the nation it was a shame that such violence plagued India decades after independence.
"We have fought enough, we have killed enough. Turn back and see, has any one gained anything?" Modi said.
In a press statement Aug. 12, the bishops' conference expressed concern over "sporadic incidents of violence against Christians in certain parts of India."