Fri, 30 Jun 2000

The Prime Minister and the Pope

When a prime minister under increasing pressure over fierce attacks against Christians in his country calls on the religious head of the world's Catholic community, the meeting is the message.

By seeking an audience with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee may have seized an opportunity to try and beam a few reassuring signals abroad as well as back at home.

In the face of continuing and relentless assaults against the Christian community, the Prime Minister has struggled to demonstrate that his Government has both the capacity and the will to protect the interests -- or indeed sometimes the very lives -- of those belonging to minority communities.

Just how keen Mr. Vajpayee was on receiving an audience from the Pope may be gauged from the fact that his already tight schedule was altered to accommodate this meeting.

When Pope John Paul II visited India late last year, Mr. Vajpayee was reported to have told the Pontiff during an interaction that India supports religious freedom and that the violence against Christians was the handiwork of an intolerant fringe, some members of which wanted to embarrass his Government.

From all appearances, the Prime Minister told the Pope pretty much the same thing during his recent visit to the Vatican. A spate of attacks has occurred between the two meetings.

It is ironic that the Prime Minister's explanation for the violence has remained unchanged. And it is only natural that it will find fewer takers than it did the first time around.

-- The Hindu, New Delhi