TURA, Feb 08: Garo Hills and the Congress went into overdrive after the visa application of a Christian preacher from South Africa was rejected by the Indian Consulate in South Africa.
The preacher, Dr Paul Msiza, who is also the president of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), was due to visit the Garo Hills region to be a part of the 150 years of Christianity in Garo Hills at the village of Rajasimla in North Garo Hills. The visa denial has created an uproar in poll bound Meghalaya with many coming out strongly against it in Garo Hills.
The BJP however quickly countered the growing clamour against the rejection of visa, calling the matter a mistake made in the visa application made by Dr Msiza.
Dr Msiza is the religious head of the Baptist World Community and was scheduled to make a tourism visit to Meghalaya and also witness the celebrations from Thursday.
An official release from Baptist organisation said that Dr. Msiza had applied for visa on January 29 and was informed of the rejection in the evening of February 7.
The issue has turned political with the Congress blaming the BJP for being anti Christian and issuing a press statement condemning the incident. Dr. Msiza was due to travel from Johannesburg in South Africa.
“It is shocking to get the news of rejection of the Visa by the Indian Consulate. We are extremely disappointed that we are going to miss the Global head of the Baptist Christian community on this historic occasion. The BWA President for us is the Pastoral head of the Baptists Community worldwide like His Holiness the Pope of the Catholic community,” said a Baptist leader.
The BWA is a worldwide alliance of Baptist churches and organizations, formed in 1905 in London during the first Baptist World Congress. The BWA maintains ecumenical relations with the Pontifical Council for promoting Christian unity.
Chief Minister, Dr. Mukul Sangma has condemned the rejection of the visa application for Dr. Msiza and termed it as an agenda of the central government against the Christian communities.
“Where are the voices of dissent within the NDA allies? It is the time we seek answers from those in power. I extend my full support to my people in Garo Hills. It is unfortunate that a spiritual leader of this stature cannot attend the Garo Baptist Convention’s celebrations at Rajasimla and I demand that this is resolved at the earliest”, the social media post of chief minister read.
However, Union Tourism Minister K. J. Alphons clarified that the preacher’s visa application has already been reopened to facilitate his arrival to India to attend the celebration.
“Nalin Kohli was informed about it yesterday morning and I was informed about it in the afternoon. We immediately took up the matter at our level with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj who in turn had personally called Indian Consulate in South Africa to reopen the application at the earliest,” said Alphons.
A message on social media which has gone viral read, “Sad day for the people of Meghalaya … shocked that despite follow ups with higher ups in the central government and some BJP top politicians of centre and state, the BJP government has displayed their anti-Christian attitude by rejecting the visa for the honourable religious head of the Baptist Christian community who can be notionally equated with His Excellency the Pope. Sabka sath, sabka vikash??”
Clarifying the claims of the social media message Alphons said, “They (Baptist organisation) never got in touch with BJP leaders, I am in Meghalaya and nobody rang me up regarding the issue. Yesterday I had a long chat with a senior Baptist leader of the country but they never discussed about any visa application”.
Terming that the issue is being “communalized” Alphons said, “Everyday hundreds of people are denied visa irrespective of their religious background. America and Europe rejects 50 per cent visa application but why a single application is being singled out to term us (BJP) as anti-Christian. Ministry of external affairs has to follow standard protocol”.
Alphons clarified that reason for rejection was mistake in the application.
“We are revisiting on the application as a complaint has been lodge. We believe that it is incumbent on the government to take into consideration the sentiments of the society as he was the President of the WBA”, he added while saying that Congress party was going overboard to politicize the issue.
Tura Lok Sabha MP Conrad K. Sangma has written to external minister Sushma Swaraj on Wednesday seeking her intervention on the issue and the process of relooking the application is currently underway.
The Working President of the Meghalaya Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC), Vincent Pala who is also the Shillong MP meanwhile said, “This matter cannot be seen in isolation of just a visa denial. It very well exposes the mindset of the present dispensation, the BJP party and their masters in Nagpur.”
While stating that the saffron brigade will stop at nothing to pursue their agenda of Hindutva, Pala said, “The RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat had even stooped to the level of ridiculing the much revered Mother Teresa and said that St. Mother Teresa had the ‘ulterior’ motive of converting people to Christianity while serving the destitute people.”
Condemning this incident, Pala said that the people of Meghalaya do not need the leaders of saffron brigade to dictate terms from their headquarters in Nagpur in pursuit of their Hindutva agenda.