New Delhi: RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's comments on Mother Teresa kicked up a furore as political parties and Christian groups on Tuesday demanded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi show that he meant every word of his assurance last week that he would not tolerate inciting of religious hatred.
From Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who said Mother Teresa, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and the Bharat Ratna, was a "noble soul" and should be spared, to the Congress party and Christian organisations, including the Missionaries of Charity founded by Mother Teresa, all termed Bhagwat's comments "uninformed" and "unfortunate".
A week after Modi spoke out strongly on religious freedom, saying "My government will not allow any religious group to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly. Mine will be a government that gives equal respect to all religions", there was a chorus of demands from all quarters that the prime minister show that he meant what he said.
"I worked wid Mother Teresa for a few months at Nirmal Hriday ashram in Kolkata. She was a noble soul. Pl spare her," Kejriwal tweeted.
Bhagwat said in Rajasthan Monday that Mother Teresa's service to the poor was aimed at converting them to Christianity.
The Congress raised the issue in the Lok Sabha but the government refused to respond.
"The government has nothing to do with such statements. Individual organisations have every right to speak outside (parliament)," Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said.
The Missionaries of Charity described Bhagwat as "uninformed" in the light of his conversion remarks. The Diocese of Calcutta too termed the comments "unfortunate".
"His (Bhagwat) comments reflect how misinformed he is. In Missionaries of Charity, there is no place for conversion. His comments are unfortunate," Teresa's close associate and Missionaries of Charity spokesperson Sunita Kumar told a news agency in Kolkata.
Sunita Kumar said the Missionaries of Charity will not press for an apology from Bhagwat.
"If he realises he has done something wrong, he will apologise. It's for him to decide," she said.
The Delhi Catholic Archdiocese said the Christian community was in a state of shock over Bhagwat's comment and that it was time Modi walked the talk on his assurance on not tolerating inciting of religious hatred.
Delhi Catholic Archdiocese spokesperson Father Savarimuthu Sankar criticised Bhagwat for being "ill-informed" and "narrow-minded".
"Modi said 'we will not tolerate religious intolerance'. But he should also be able to reign in these elements like the RSS," he said.
"This incident is an opportunity for the prime minister to show he meant those words and walk the talk. You said you would not tolerate, then show it by taking strict action against Bhagwat and reign him in," he said.
The Indian Christian Voice (ICV) termed Bhagwat's remarks an insult to all those who work for the poor and urged the prime minister to strongly condemn it.
ICV president Abraham Mathai urged the RSS to first serve and care for lepers, AIDS victims and the poor before making comments that are in "extremely bad taste".
The Goa unit of the Congress said Bhagwat's statement only confirmed that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party was the B-team of the Sangh Parivar and was systematically polarising India on religious lines.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar condemned Bhagwat's remarks, saying it reflects the "perverted mind of someone having prejudiced mindset".
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national spokesperson Sambit Patra declined to comment on Bhagwat's statement. "I would not be commenting on this," Patra told a news agency.
The Congress demanded that the Prime Minister "unequivocally" condemn Bhagwat's remarks.
"RSS is the dominant force which controls the Modi government... the prime minister can't pretend that the BJP has nothing to do with the RSS," Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha told a news agency.