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Tuesday, 21 August, 2001, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
Vajpayee attacked over conversion remarks
RSS prayers
The RSS are ideologically close to the government
By Rajyasri Rao in Delhi

India's main opposition Congress party and a leading Christian organisation have strongly criticised Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee for recent remarks about the alleged occurrence of forced conversions to Christianity.

Indian PM
Prime Minister Vajpayee: Criticised some conversions`
Mr Vajpayee was quoted in the Indian media over the weekend as praising Christian groups for their work in neglected areas of the country - but also said that some of them abuse their position to carry out conversions.

Newspapers quote the prime minister making these comments at his house over the weekend during a function attended by leaders of the hardline Hindu organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

The RSS is widely regarded to be the ideological force behind the BJP and its close affiliates have on several occasions accused Christian organisations of carrying out forced conversions.

Tension over alleged conversions by Christian organisations peaked about two years ago when Christian prayer centres were set on fire in the western state of Gujarat and an Australian missionary and his two sons were murdered in the eastern state of Orissa.

Proof demanded

A Congress legislator, Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi, told parliament on Monday that Mr Vajpayee should come clean.

He said that if the prime minister had proof of forced conversions he must produce it before parliament.

The All-India Christian Council said the prime minister's remarks endangered the Christian community's safety.

They said this was because such comments - in their view - only condoned the hate campaign carried out against its members.

The council also strongly rejected the charge of forced conversions, saying there were no conversions except those done out of free will.

See also:

13 Aug 01 | South Asia
Bombay churches in protest strike
20 Mar 01 | South Asia
Internal pressure worries Vajpayee
22 Jan 01 | South Asia
Controversy over Hindu weekly
15 Dec 00 | South Asia
Vajpayee's double victory
24 Feb 00 | South Asia
Analysis: RSS aims for a Hindu nation
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