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  Opinion   Columnists  23 Jun 2024  Anita Katyal | Why India slow to host Pope; Jairam-Khera feud to the fore

Anita Katyal | Why India slow to host Pope; Jairam-Khera feud to the fore

The writer is a Delhi-based journalist.
Published : Jun 23, 2024, 3:37 am IST
Updated : Jun 23, 2024, 3:37 am IST

From diplomatic invitations to papal visits and internal coalition dynamics, India's political arena navigates complex waters

 Savelletri Di Fasano: Pope Francis greets Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he arrives for a session during the G7 Summit, in Savelletri Di Fasano, Italy, Friday, June 14, 2024. (PTI Photo)
  Savelletri Di Fasano: Pope Francis greets Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he arrives for a session during the G7 Summit, in Savelletri Di Fasano, Italy, Friday, June 14, 2024. (PTI Photo)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent meeting with Pope Francis in Italy has given fresh hope to the Christian community here that the Roman Catholic Church leader’s long-awaited visit to India will finally fructify. This optimism is based on official reports that Mr Modi invited the Pope to visit India even as a photograph of the two exchanging a warm hug went viral. However, sceptics in the Christian community are convinced there will be no forward movement on the papal visit, for this is not the first time that Mr Modi has invited him. A similar invitation was extended to Pope Francis when Mr Modi called on him at the Vatican in 2021. But nothing came of it even though the Pope has visited countries in the Indian neighborhood twice over the past few years. Insiders in the Christian community maintain the Vatican is keen on a papal visit to India but the Modi government has not evinced much interest in following up on the Prime Minister’s invitation. The Modi government apparently is ambivalent on this issue as it is not sure about the reaction of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and its other affiliate organisations which had objected to the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1999 when Atal Behari Vajpayee was Prime Minister.

It is an acknowledged fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi prefers not to share the stage with anyone else. He also likes to be centrestage at all public functions, big or small. But the situation has changed after the 2024 election results. Now that he is heading a coalition government, the Prime Minister has to be more accommodative towards his own colleagues and his alliance partners. Consequently, Mr Modi has been seen in the same photo frame with Telugu Desam Party chief N. Chandrababu Naidu and Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United) on several occasions. On his first visit to Varanasi last week, Mr Modi was seated on the dais with the new agriculture minister Shivraj Chouhan, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister and a host of BJP leaders. Though it was Mr Modi who announced the new package for farmers at that meeting, his speech was preceded by Mr Chouhan’s lengthy welcome address when he gave details of the various initiatives being undertaken by the Modi government for the welfare of farmers. Clearly, Mr Chouhan is back in favour after his spectacular win in the Lok Sabha elections.

Media-persons on the Congress beat are well aware of the “not so warm” relations between the senior members of the party’s communications department. This was evident at a dinner hosted for journalists recently by the media department head Jairam Ramesh. During the course of a conversation, there was a disagreement between Mr Ramesh and his colleague Pawan Khera, regarding the rules on moving a no-confidence motion against the newly-sworn in National Democratic Alliance government. Mr Ramesh maintained that it could not be moved while Mr Khera insisted rules allowed for it. “You people never let me go to Parliament but I know the rules,” he remarked. Though he laughed this off, it is well known that Mr Khera has been eyeing a Rajya Sabha berth but without success.

There was a time when former Punjab chief minister and Congress leader Amarinder Singh strode across the state like the proverbial Colossus. But he lost his cachet after he walked out of the Congress and joined the Bharatiya Janata Party on being removed as chief minister. The former Maharaja of Patiala has been virtually underground for nearly two years now. He did not campaign during the recent Lok Sabha elections and was not present when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Patiala for an election rally. Mr Singh is said to be sulking as the BJP has not taken note of his seniority and accommodated him suitably. The Lok Sabha election result proved to be another setback as Mr Singh’s wife Preneet Singh lost the Patiala seat, considered a family bastion. To make matters worse, Ravneet Singh Bittu, another Congress turncoat, has been appointed junior minister at the Centre even though he failed to win the Ludhiana seat. The rivalry between Mr Bittu’s family and Amarinder Singh is no secret in Punjab.

Kiran Chaudhary, the former five-time Congress MLA from Haryana, who joined the Bharatiya Janata Party along with her daughter Shruti, is learnt to have been promised a Rajya Sabha berth. Her daughter, it is said, has been assured a ticket in the next Haryana Assembly polls. A Rajya Sabha seat from the state quota has fallen vacant as Deependra Hooda, son of former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, will now move to the Lok Sabha. However, the numbers game in this election will be interesting as several BJP MLAs left the party shortly before the Lok Sabha polls while its alliance partner, the Jannayak Janata Party, has severed ties with it though some MLAs are supporting the ruling party. The presence of Independent members will further complicate matters. The senior Hooda, whose bitter relations with Kiran Chaudhary are well known, can be expected to do his best to deny her a win. If Ms Chaudhary is fielded by the BJP as speculated, the election will set the stage for a bitter battle between the two arch-enemies. 

Tags: prime minister narendra modi, pope francis, amarinder singh