Q&A: V S Acharya
Anil Urs / New Delhi September 28, 2008, 0:43 IST
Karnataka Home Minister V S Acharya spoke to ANIL URS in the wake of the attacks on churches which rocked the state recently.
How has the state government tackled the fallout of the attack on churches?
The state is peaceful. On September 14, when these most unexpected and shocking incidents occurred in Mangalore, we rushed to the place and met all concerned and convinced them. A joint statement for communal harmony was issued by Christian and Hindu leaders. Thereafter, not one incident has been reported from that belt. I stayed there for four days, the chief minister himself visited the area on September 15. Again, we both made earnest attempts to bring back normalcy and peace. Thereafter, our endeavour has been to maintain peace throughout the state. But unfortunately, our political adversaries instigated some anti-social elements, and they started creating problems. Though minor in nature, they drew the attention of the public through the media, and it became national news.
What assurance has the state government given the archbishop?
We told the archbishop and the bishop of Mangalore that we are committed to protecting every community and such incidents will never recur. They should also cooperate and have confidence in us. I visited the bishop when he was in the hospital at Falnir. I also visited a few injured Christian friends in various other hospitals. Congress leaders Janardhan Pujari and Margaret Alva have wrongly stated that nobody visited these areas in Mangalore. I have visited the scene of crime and every hospital to see policemen and Christian nuns, and have assured them of help and assistance.
Was the Karnataka government caught unawares? Why did it fail to anticipate more attacks in the subsequent days?
Yes, even I was caught unawares. We never expected such a development as we were busy celebrating our first 100 days in office and charting the roadmap for the next 100 days. We were also busy with our party’s national executive council meet in Bangalore. The shocking news came to us at 10.30 pm when we were holding a special meeting to review the situation after the Delhi blasts on September 13. Thereafter the chief minister and I were fully involved in maintaining peace.
Why did the crisis spread to Bangalore?
We did not anticipate this since there was no reason to. But even the two stray incidents are totally unrelated. In one case, it looks like a rear door was broken when the police were present in the front. Some miscreants took away records and money and it looks like a dispute within themselves, that is, between a Malayalam and a Kannada group. This was confirmed later when we met a few local Christians. We would not call the Bangalore incidents alarming, but we are sorry that they happened.
In the coastal districts and Chikmagalur, the conversion issue has been alive for many years. Did your government anticipate a collision with the church on the issue?
In the coastal regions, there was and is an apprehension of forceful enticement by taking advantage of people’s helplessness. There have been conversions in these areas in the recent past, especially among the fishermen community and a few below the poverty line. The Roman Catholic Church and, by and large, the principal Protestant Church have denied this. They have said they are against conversions through inducements and against those churches that indulge in such conversions. The bishop of Mangalore is on record saying they are opposed to such conversions and the New Life Church and Pentecostal Church are a problem for them as well. For example, in a Milagres church, I believe all 53 families have gone over to New Life. This was brought to my notice by the bishop of Mangalore.
How do you propose to tackle the issue of conversion through inducement?
People must come forward to locate and isolate these sections who indulge in conversions, and complain to the police. The police will then handle the issue. People should not take the law into their own hands.
Will the BJP government look into complaints of such conversions?
Sarva Dharma Sambhav — treating all religions respectfully — is our party’s policy and one of our five guiding principles. The chief minister has been saying from day one that people should not take the law into their own hands; let the government handle it.
Were the Sangh Parivar outfits told to keep away from the Hindutva agenda when your party came to power for the first time in the south?
No, I don’t think so. People know what Hindutva is. It is a tolerant philosophy. The BJP should go about the task of governance.
Is there a call from the RSS to treat religion and governance as one?
No. They know what are our limitations are and how we should conduct ourselves. That is not a problem for us.
What is the RSS’s view on the crisis? Did it offer any advice?
They say it should not have happened. They are opposed to violence and say that everybody must be treated equally and whoever takes the law into their hands must be tackled. In their view, forceful conversion is the root cause of all this unnecessary violence.
Your party is accusing the opposition of creating trouble for political gains. Do you have any proof against them?
We are collecting evidence. The results are coming in and they are encouraging. In retrospect, do you regret the police action on Christian protesters last Monday in Mangalore? Any police action does not look happy retrospectively. People marched with lathis. Our policemen are the best response we have to tide over such a situation. We have to respect our policemen, but somebody threw stones on their heads from above (from the top of buildings) and beat them up with sticks. That being the case, we are at a loss to say who is right and who is wrong. In all, 45 policemen were injured and 26 members of the public. Anyway, it is important that the situation was controlled within two days. Also, there were no major casualties, no loss of life, no damage to property. This is the physical balance sheet.
The central observers’ report could be damaging for the state’s image. How do you plan to tackle its fallout?
We will tackle it. Nothing much has happened. The situation is by and large normal. There are many other states where the situation is really bad. Compared to them, Karnataka is safe. Their (central observers’) statement cannot contradict the situation prevailing here. We will give sufficient evidence and also ask people to come forward and give evidence.
Do you see any long-term repercussions on foreign investment flow into the state, especially since Christian groups are planning to raise the issue aboard?
Everybody knows the issue has settled down. Some vested interests are out to tarnish India’s image, BJP’s image.
Has the Centre invoked Article 355 in spirit, if not in letter?
Article 355 has not been invoked. Two letters of an advisory nature have come. We have no problem with that. If they go further and unnecessarily interfere, we will react.