The first leg of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra has hit a wrong note even before it crossed into Tamil Nadu following his meeting with controversial parish priest George Ponnaiah.
On Friday, Rahul Gandhi met Fr. Ponnaiah, when the latter told him that Jesus is the "real God". "God reveals him as a man, a real person, not like Shakti (the Hindu goddess). So we see a human person," the priest told the Wayanad MP in response to his question, "Jesus Christ is a form of God. Is that right? " A video of the conversation went viral on social media on Saturday, triggering strong criticism from the BJP and its affiliate organisations.
Clearly, Rahul Gandhi’s yatra managers had no idea they were walking into a landmine by arranging for the meeting between him and Fr. Ponniah, considering his controversial past.
Just last year, Fr. Ponniah was arrested following an outcry over his disparaging remarks about Bhooma Devi (Goddess of Earth) and Bharat Mata. He had, at a public function, mocked the belief of a section of Hindus that Bhooma Devi was God. "For them it is God. We wear shoes so that we don’t get an infection from the ground. He also made derogatory remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.
In fact, the Madras High Court had strongly criticised his remarks while hearing a case. Holding that he had prima facie deliberately intended to outrage religious feelings by promoting enmity, Justice G R Swaminathan had earlier this year said there was absolutely no need to mount a visceral attack on the religious beliefs of the Hindus.
"Bhooma Devi is considered a Goddess by all believing Hindus. I use the expression "believing" because, even though materialists, rationalists, and non-believers can also be counted as Hindus... "Bharat Mata evokes a deeply emotional veneration in a very large number of Hindus," the judge said.
The words uttered by the petitioner (Fr. Ponniah) were sufficiently provocative and they reeked of malice and supremacism, the court said.
The judge had added, "There was no need or need for a terror attack on the religious beliefs of Hindus. It was unfair and completely unrelated to the occasion. That’s what makes it intentional and malicious. The petitioner made fun of those walking barefoot in honour of Mother Earth (Bhoomi Devi). He said that Christians wear shoes so that they do not itch. He portrayed Bhooma Devi and Bharat Mata as the sources of infection and filth. "
Against this backdrop, many were surprised that Rahul Gandhi was advised to meet him during his Bharat Jodo Yatra in Kanniyakumari. This was one meeting that certainly could have been avoided. The BJP has latched on to it, so early in the yatra. Surely our leader needs better advisors, "admited a Tamil Nadu Congress Committee leader," who pointed out that even senior party leader Peter Alphonse, who is the Chairman of the State Minorities Commission, had last year condemned Fr. Ponniah’s remarks.