MUMBAI – In a rather astonishing turn of events, Gorakhpur Yogi Adityanath, a member of India’s parliament, has accused Mother Teresa of “a conspiracy to Christianize India” while speaking at a Ram Katha event, a Hindu religious festival honoring Ram, in Basti in the northeast state of Uttar Pradesh.
Mother Teresa is set to be formally declared a saint of the Catholic Church on Sept. 4 in Rome by Pope Francis.
Although she was born in what is today Macedonia, she’s considered a national hero in India, where she is the only non-government official other than Mahatma Gandhi given a state funeral when she died in 1997.
Adityanath, the politician who criticized her legacy, is a member of the BJP, the party that’s widely seen as the political wing of Indian’s often militant Hindu nationalist movements.
Adityanath went on to suggest that “incidents of Christianization had led to separatist movements in parts of the northeast.” He said, “you are all unaware of the situation in the northeast. You should visit there to see the real situation.”
Adityanath has a history of defending pro-Hindu causes. He was defiant, for instance, in defense of a controversial temple being built in honor of the Hindu god Ram, and has claimed that in some parts of the northeast of India Hindus have become a minority, alleging that up to 60 percent of Hindu losses are due to conversions by both Christians and Muslims.
This was not the first accusation against Mother Teresa by an Indian politician.
Last year, Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist organization, commented that the soon-to-be saint was working with the poor only in an effort to convert them to Christianity.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai issued a statement after the Sangh incident saying, “I am deeply pained and saddened that he could make such a remark about Mother Teresa, a person loved and revered by all Indians and indeed the world over.
“I met Mother Teresa many times and I sensed the great joy she felt when she reached out to the poorest of the poor, the sick, the abandoned and the dying – indeed everyone who met her has expressed this.”
Gracias was also careful to point out that such language could negatively impact the “harmony and goodwill between people of different religions” which is a topic of vital concern in India.
He went on to say, “I do hope Mr. Bhagwat retracts his statement.”
Mother Teresa was a world-renowned icon of someone giving her life to the poor. While a few in the West, most notably Christopher Hitchens in his biography of her, Missionary Position, have criticized her for a passive attitude toward suffering and taking money from dubious sources, in general she remains an enormously popular figure.
In 1999, a Gallup poll found that she was the most admired figure of the previous century among Americans by a wide margin.