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Church leaders gun for ‘utter lie’

New Delhi, April 16: Christian leaders today condemned Narendra Modi’s statement in a television interview last week that he was unaware of any attacks on members of the community and their places of worship in India.

“What he said was an utter lie. The onslaught against Christians by Right-wing groups has always been cause for concern. The Bajrang Dal, the youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, has been attacking members of the Christian community and vandalising churches across India,” said Richard Howell, general secretary, Evangelical Fellowship of India, which represents about 45 churches across the country.

Expressing shock and dismay at Modi’s statement, the community leaders said the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate cannot win their trust if he feigns ignorance about their sufferings.

“How can he forget the gruesome attacks on tribal Christians in Gujarat’s Dangs district in 1998 during the NDA regime when members of the Right-wing cadres burnt down churches? Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then Prime Minster, himself had visited the district to take stock of the situation,” Howell told a news conference in Delhi today.

He said 22 churches were burnt in 2002 in Gujarat and several members of the community were attacked by VHP cadres. The VHP is part of the Sangh parivar.

Replying to a question from a member of the audience who asked him what steps he would take to ensure no churches are broken down if he becomes Prime Minister, Modi said: “I have never heard of such incidents taking place.”

Vijayesh Lal, national director, Religious Liberty Commission, said Christians continue to be attacked and their places of worship are being vandalised over the past few years in states like Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Chhattisgarh.

“Surprisingly, Modi pretends to be ignorant and unaware about such attacks on Christians. If this is the case then why should we trust his promises of a secular India as mentioned in the BJP’s election manifesto,” he asked.