05/23/2006, 00.00
INDIA - VATICAN
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BJP leader argues with pope: "religious intolerance charge unjustified"

Rajnath Singh, chairman of the largest nationalist party in India, countered the concerns expressed by the pope about anti-conversion laws in India. "It is conversions that go against the secular nature of the state, not laws that ban them."

Delhi (AsiaNews/Icns) – Rajnath Singh, chairman of the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP – India's largest political party with nationalist-fundamentalist tendencies] has given a controversial reply to statements made by Benedict XVI about anti-conversion laws in India. In a letter to the pope, Rajnath Singh said his comments were "unjustified" and "pained all Indians".

Singh was referring to an address made by the pope on 18 May during a meeting with the new ambassador of India to the Holy See, Amitava Tripathi, when the latter presented his credentials. Benedict XVI described as "disturbing" the "signs of religious intolerance" in some Indian states, where there is "the reprehensible attempt to legislate clearly discriminatory restrictions on the fundamental right of religious freedom".

The pope emphasized that not only was this "unconstitutional" and to be "firmly" rejected, it was also "contrary to the highest ideals of India's founding fathers who believed in a nation in which ethnic and religious groups could live in peaceful coexistence and mutual tolerance".

In his letter to the Holy See, Singh said: "Indian laws are not anti-secular since they were passed in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of India. The laws also had stood the scrutiny of the Supreme Court, which eliminated any reference to possible fraudulent interpretations of the term conversion".

The political leader added: "The reference to religious intolerance made to our ambassador and the request to eliminate anti-conversion laws has pained us all. In fact, activities that really go against the secular nature of the nation are conversions, not the laws that prohibit them."

The same disdain from the Indian Foreign Affairs Minister who, in a press statement issued on 22 May, said about the pope's comments: "It is universally recognized that India is a democratic and secular country in which the faithful of all religions enjoy equal rights."

The protests of some Hindu fundamentalist groups in Madhya Pradesh were still less diplomatic. On Saturday 20 May, they burned photos of Benedict XVI to protest his "interference in India's internal affairs".

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