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Chandrahas Choudhury

Modi's Convenient New Religious Tolerance

Modi’s long-delayed reassurance to India on the subject of religious freedom is almost certainly driven more by political expediency than commitment.
Tolerance as an instrument of expediency.

Tolerance as an instrument of expediency.

Photographer: Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images

He said it! At a function this week in New Delhi arranged by the Catholic Church in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi came out emphatically in support of religious freedom. Speaking in English (his third language), Modi said, “Mine will be a government that gives equal respect to all religions” and, further, that “equal respect for all religions should be part of the DNA of all Indians.”

Many understood Modi’s words -- uttered not in parliament but at a ceremony to celebrate the elevation of two priests to sainthood -- as a long-overdue response to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Hindu revivalist organization that Modi served for many years before moving on to a career in politics with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. Many also thought that the prime minister had spoken at least two months too late, as far as the nation was concerned, but probably not a moment too soon in other respects.