Indian leader Narendra Modi today promised to protect all religious group after a series of attacks on Christian institutions in the capita Delhi fuelled concerns that Hindu hardliners are targeting minorities.
Critics have accused Mr Modi’s nine-month-old government of turning a blind eye to the attacks and further emboldening extremists.
“I condemn all incidents of violence where religious minorities were targeted,” Modi told an event organised by the Christian community to celebrate the beatification of two Indians by Pope Francis late last year.
“No religious group can incite violence … my government will ensure there is complete freedom of faith.”
Modi, a self-proclaimed Hindu nationalist, rarely attends events organised by minority communities.
His decision to appear among Christians follows his party’s crushing defeat in the Delhi elections at the hands of the Aam Aadmi Party whose success has been built on its egalitarian policies.
The election 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’s police chief 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 have become a sensitive issue in recent months after hardliners with links to Mr Modi’s BJP said Hinduism was under threat and started a campaign to convince Christians and Muslims to change their faith.
“My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly,” Modi said.
Last month, U.S. 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
Obama made no direct reference in his speech to Modi, who was banned from travelling to the United States for nearly a decade until last year after deadly Hindu-Muslim violence in Gujarat where he ruled in 2002.