The Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in his tweet of 30th December informed that he instructed the District Collectors of the State to be in regular touch with organisations run by the Missionaries of Charity,(MOC) founded by Nobel laureate Mother Teresa, and ensure that no inmate suffers especially from food security and health related distress and that funds from Chief Minister’s Relief Fund can be used for the purpose.
The exemplary stand of Odisha CM in providing funds from the CM relief fund is in sharp contrast to the decision taken by the Union Home Ministry on Christmas itself, 25th December 2021, not to renew Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) registration in favour of the MOC even though it was extended upto 31st December by the same Ministry. While Naveen Patnaik took concrete stand in favour of MOS the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee only expressed shock that on Christmas itself the Home Ministry froze all bank accounts of Missionaries of Charity and such a move “had left “22,000 patients and employees” of the organisation “without food and medicines”; She maintained that while the law is paramount, humanitarian efforts must not be compromised.” Later the MOS itself clarified that its bank accounts have not been frozen by Government of India and that it advised its units not to operate bank accounts till the FRC issue got sorted out.
The decision of Odisha CM to reach out to the Missionaries of Charity without taking a view on the action of the Union Home Ministry brings out his quiet approach in offering humanitarian and monetary services to the MOC units located in Odisha when it faces funds crunch because of non-renewal of FCRA by Union Home Ministry on the ground that it received some “adverse inputs” against it.
Utkal Sammilani founded by a Converted Christian
It is worthwhile to mention that the Utkal Sammilani which spearheaded the struggle to establish the separate province of Odisha was founded in 1903 by Utkal Gaurab Madhusudan Das, a legendary and well regarded figure of Odiahs who was a converted Christian and went on to become the President of All India Christian Conference. He was firmly secular and never allowed issues of religion to be raised in the Sammilani, for he believed that any attempt to bring in religion to a secular platform like Utkal Sammilani would divert it from its main goal of establishing the separate province of Odisha. That historical backdrop is essential to understand the secular ethos of Odisha.
Christians Constitute the Largest Minority in Odisha
As per 2011 census Christians of the State are only 11.6 lakhs in the four crore population of the State. They, thus, constitute around 2.7 per cent of the population and have got the status of the largest minority followed by Muslims who constitute 2.17 per cent.
Riots in kandhmal
In the riots that took place in Kandhmal district of the State in 2008 Christians became the worst victims of targeted violence by Hindutva groups after the killing of Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati by maoists. Many of them lost their lives and several churches were burnt and vandalised. A nun was raped and many women were victims of molestation and violation of their bodies. That tragic riot claimed the lives of many Hindus and tribes of the district as well. It was a blot in the history of the State which is known for its religious pluralism and secular ethos. That time there was a coalition Government of Biju Janata Dal and BJP headed by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. On that occasion he made the famous declaration that every drop of his blood remained secular. In 2009 he snapped alliance ties with BJP and contested elections on the strength of BJD alone and swept the Assembly polls by securing 103 out of 147 seats. BJP was reduced to the margins by securing only 6 seats. While in the elections held in 2014 BJD scored a huge victory defying Modi led BJP’s big win at the national level, in 2019 elections BJD scored a massive victory and BJP was consigned to a distant second position.
Hollow Claims of “Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas and Sabka Viswas.”
Now in 2021 when the BJP led NDA Government at the Centre headed by Prime Minister Modi has not renewed the FCRA of MOC Naveen Patnaik has stood by it by allowing the utlisation of the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund for the the benefits of those who are serviced by the units of the Missionaries of Charity. It unmistakably brings out the compassionate approach of Naveen Patnaik in dealing with the Christian minorities who are less than three per cent of the population.
The BJP in its election manifesto for 2019 declared that it remained “committed to the empowerment and ‘development with dignity’ of all minorities (Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis etc )”. It also blows its trumpet by repeating the oft repeated words of Prime Minister Modi, “Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas and Sabka Viswas.” It is paradoxical that with such declaratory claims for empowerment and development of minorities and a slogan aiming to include every one in its all embracing fold, it has targeted the MOS by not renewing its FCRA on the basis of “adverse inputs”.
The recent attacks on Christians and Churches in Karnataka and other States including the ones ruled by BJP exposes its hollow claim for the cause of minorities. There was not a single word of condemnation from the Union Government on such attacks. In view of such assaults in contravention of the Constitution and the Indian Penal Code, the non renewal of the FCRA of MOC clearly affirms the continuing and strident march of majoritarianism as the soul and guiding force for the Modi regime.
Naveen’s Inclusive Approach
In contrast to this, the BJD Government headed by Naveen Patnaik in spite of winning 113 seats in the State Assembly in 2019 elections is guided by an inclusive approach for framing public policies. Of course BJD has supported the passage of some Bills of the Modi regime both in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. However, it has followed an inclusive approach at the State level and set an example for the whole nation. For instance Chief Minister Patnaik apart from sanctioning a special package for transforming Puri Jagannath Temple complex to a global heritage project, sanctioned, on 28th February 2020, Rs 23 crore for development of many other shrines across the state. Rs 1 crore each has been earmarked for development of ten temples, five churches, six mosques, one gurudwara and one Punjabi mutt in the State.
Therefore, Naveen’s decision that Missionaries of Charity,(MOC) would have access to CM relief fund so that no inmate suffers especially from food security and health related distress affirm his commitment to religious pluralism and secularism which are basic structure of the Constitution. In doing so he set a fine example of leadership at a time when the Prime Minister and other leaders of the BJP at the national level are silent on gruesome majoritarianism demonstrated by Hindutva leaders calling for arms, waging war against Muslims and inciting genocide against them.
#The author served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan and had a tenure in Prime Minister’s Office and Joint Secretary in Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Views expressed in the article are in his personal capacity.