It was not the normal Easter Resurrection Mass. It was a special function organised for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his office informed officials at the Sacred Heart Cathedral – a landmark in the centre of New Delhi not far from the seat of the national government – that he would want to pay the church a visit.

A programme was arranged by the cathedral clergy, well versed in the delicate protocol of official visits. They had played host to President Droupadi Murmu at Christmas with great success.

The prime ministerial convoy drove in and Modi was received by Archbishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto of Delhi, his auxiliary Deepak Tauro, Archbishop Kuriakose Brahmikulangara of the Syro-Malabar Archdiocese of Faridabad, and Bishop Thomas Anthonios of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Diocese of Gurgaon.

Modi lit a candle in front of a statue of resurrection and sat in a high chair facing the celebrated altar with its backdrop of the Last Supper while a choir of young girls sang three hymns. Modi listened, and then left the church accompanied by the bishops.

On the lawns, he planted a sapling and advised Archbishop Couto that much water would be saved if the Church adopted the drip irrigation system pioneered by Israel.

Modi was not expected to articulate a reassurance to Christians when he visited the cathedral which had been the site of major protests in recent months. The highly visible Jantar Mantar agitation of February 19 by laity and clergy was followed by a candlelight protest at the cathedral.

Both were to demand government action to stop the massive wave of violence let loose on the Christian community in many states, most ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party but some also by the Congress as in Chhattisgarh, a region notorious for persecuting Christ’s faithful.

Archbishop Couto chaired the protest at Jantar Mantar with a record gathering. Bishops, clergy and common people of all denominations participated.

As with the lack of liturgy at Modi’s programme at Easter, there was a total absence of any serious conversation other than the small talk for which the prime minister is now famous, like drip irrigation.

Violence in 2022 ranged from 650 to 1,200 incidents. Gathering data and certifying it is a Herculean task for want of government cooperation. The new year has seen a steady escalation with Uttar Pradesh still holding several pastors in jail pending their appeals for bail after they were arrested on fabricated charges of forcibly converting Hindus to Christianity.

States have failed to produce any data before the Supreme Court, which is hearing a bunch of writs on various aspects of persecution and the constitutional validity of anti-conversion laws.

Modi knows about this, as does President Murmu who has with her a copy of the memorandum listing all these things, signed by the leadership of the Church in the national capital. A copy of the memorandum was also sent to the prime minister, and to all major political functionaries in the country. A delegation is to meet the president soon.

All this data is in the public domain, as is the long list of hate speeches and calls for the genocide of Christians made with chilling frequency by religious and political leaders close to the ruling party, some holding legislative ranks. The hate has not stopped, and neither has the violence. The chill in the community persists.

This thoroughly exposes several Catholic and Protestant bishops of Kerala who feign ignorance of what is happening in the rest of the country. Kerala is attached to the Indian landmass, and Malayalis, residents of Kerala form part of the clergy and religious of all denominations across the country. They figure prominently among the victims of violence or false arrests.

Cardinal George Alencherry, the major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, did not pull up the erring Bishop Joseph Pamplany Thalassery who said Catholics would vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party if it raised the price of raw rubber. Rubber plantation owners and workers are largely Christian. Instead, in a bizarre newspaper interview, the cardinal did admit that these days the people don’t blindly obey bishops when it comes to voting in political elections.

The BJP, the Congress, and the Aam Aadmi Party are now perhaps the only ones really entitled to the title of a national party, with the communists, and even the Trinamool Congress, relegated to the status of regional formations, deeply hurting the pride of their leaders who also harbor prime ministerial ambitions.

But Modi is not content with helping the BJP become the biggest political party in India, perhaps in the world. He wants to reduce the Congress to the status of a regional party with influence in pockets of Kerala, Karnataka, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh.

The sudden spurt of its overtures to Muslims in Uttar Pradesh, where it elevated a bunch of Shia Muslim leaders to the Upper House of the legislature, and to Christians in the North East states, Kerala and Delhi, is supposed to cut into the lifeblood of the Congress in these regions.

This is easier said than done. Other than in Kerala, where the tussle for political and economic supremacy between Hindus, Christians and Muslims continues unabated, the rest of the country sees religious minorities making common cause for no other reason than the identical source of the hate and targeted violence they face.

There is something glaring in the ruling party announcing cow meat is legal in the northeast while Muslims, and the occasional Christian tribal, continue to be lynched by Hindu mobs in the rest of the country.

And after excluding the Mughal and other Muslim dynasties in a surgical strike on textbooks of schools and colleges, the next move seems to be the whitewashing of the contribution to health and education by Christian missionaries over the last two centuries at least.

It is not such a thick fog as to blind the entire population to the double game of the BJP, and its minders in the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh on the eve of the general election in 2024.

Modi has to keep in mind the political and electoral calculations to ensure more votes without discouraging the hounds of the Sangh Parivar and deepening the polarisation; nor reassuring the hares – the Muslim and Christian religious minorities – that together make up perhaps 20% of India’s population.

The answer is blowing in the wind.

It will be too much to expect that violence against Christians will end now that Prime Minister Modi has planted a tree and lit a candle at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in the bosom of New Delhi. The electoral fires are smoldering elsewhere. They will not be doused till after the 2024 election.

John Dayal is a veteran journalist and human rights activist.

This article was first published on UCA News.