A bishop in India’s conflict torn north-east Manipur region says continuing communal violence in the state is part of a larger plan “to destabilise interreligious harmony” and raise support for the ruling party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The warning came in a statement to Catholic persecution charity, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), who said the unnamed bishop from the region believes extremists “want to terrorise” Christians and Muslims to try “to win over Hindus” for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) before the general elections next April.
The statement came as US President Joe Biden hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House, with the President later calling the relationship between the US and India "among the most consequential in the world, that is stronger, closer and more dynamic than at any time in history".
"On the issues that matter most that will define the future, our nations look to one another including on critical regional and global issues," he told reporters.
But the bishop, who asked not to be named for safety reasons, blamed Modi’s ruling BJP party for turning a blind eye to the violence in Manipur, where the conflict has been raging for weeks.
“Many lives have been lost. What the newspapers are giving are the confirmed cases but there are many more lives lost than officially published”, he says.
“The violent activities outside the capital are very much underreported.”
“The BJP runs both the federal government and Manipur, so there is tacit permission to go ahead”, he claimed.
Although it is widely reported that the violence is caused by an ethnic dispute over land ownership, the bishop says religion plays a significant role.
The bishop explained: “There are Christians among the Meiteis, and many of their churches have also been destroyed, which is clear proof that it is not just about land.”
He added: “The end of this is nowhere in sight. The mistrust created between the two groups will not easily die out.”
Some Democratic congressional representatives in Washington have echoed those concerns over breaches of human rights and religious liberty. But standing alongside Mr Modi, President Biden emphasised that press, religious and other fundamental freedoms should be at the core of how both democracies operate.
During their Oval Office meeting, Mr Biden said he and Mr Modi had a "good discussion about democratic values" while Mr Modi said "there's absolutely no space for discrimination" when pressed about his own commitment on human rights.
"Democracy is our spirit," claimed Mr Modi. "Democracy runs in our veins. We live democracy and our ancestors have actually put words to this concept."
He said India has "proved that democracies can deliver and when I say deliver, this is regardless of class, creed, religion, gender".