ucanews.com reporter, New DelhiUpdated: January 05, 2016 09:25 AM GMT
Christians pray during a Christmas service in Srinagar. Christian leaders are disputing claims made by the RSS that talks are underway for closer ties with the Hindu nationalist group. (Photo by Tauseef Mustafa/AFP)
Christian leaders in India are disputing claims made by a Hindu nationalist group that talks are underway to set up a Christian organization within its structure to forge closer ties between the two religious communities.
Indresh Kumar, national executive member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS national volunteer corps) Hindu group told local media on Jan. 3 that a Dec. 17 meeting between Christian leaders and RSS functionaries in New Delhi was the first step toward setting up a Christian organization within the RSS.
The alleged move to reach out to Christians comes amid accusations the RSS, along with its political wing, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are stoking a climate of intolerance against minority religions in India.
Christian leaders say the claim is baseless, politically motivated and aimed at dividing Christians.
The reports are wrong, said Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara of Faridabad, who attended the meeting along with Bishop Jacob Mar Barnabas of Gurgaon. "There was absolutely no talk about such an organization at that gathering," he said.
"First, it was not a meeting. It was a Christmas celebration. ... Claims of discussing a political forum is absolutely baseless," Bishop Bharanikulangara told ucanews.com on Jan. 5.
The fact this claim comes more than two weeks after the Christmas gathering makes it "clear that political aspects were attributed to [the gathering] later."
According to reports five archbishops and 40 bishops attended the meeting. But Archbishop Bharanikulangara said only three bishops attended — two Catholic bishops including him, and one Orthodox bishop.
"The reports are clearly misleading," he said.
Media reports said the move comes a decade after RSS set up Muslim Rashtriya Manch (a political forum) to attract Muslims to the BJP.
Kumar's claims are "politically motivated" to attract Christians to the BJP, said A.C. Michael, former member of the Delhi Minority Commission and a Christian leader.
According to Father Ajay Kumar Singh, a rights activist, the claims are aimed at "dividing Christians."
Kumar was instrumental in fomenting anti-Christian violence in the tribal areas of Kandhamal district in 2009 that claimed some 100 lives and the displacement of some 50,000 Christians, said Singh who works with victims of the violence.
"How can such a person do anything good for this community?" Father Singh said.
The claim about the gathering is part of an established RSS strategy to "divide and confuse" religious minorities for its ultimate goal of creating a Hindu-only India, he said.