Rejection of visa application to President of the Baptist World Alliance Dr Paul Msiza by the India Consulate in South Africa who was scheduled to attend 150 years of Christianity among the Garo Baptist at Rajasimla in North Garo Hills has created uproar among the community in Garo hills.
In poll bound Meghalaya the rejection of visa application issue has taken a political colour with social media users terming it as “anti–Christian” attitude of the BJP government.
Dr Paul Msiza, President of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), the religious head of the Baptist World Community was scheduled to make visit to Meghalaya for ‘tourism’ purpose 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 on the evening of February 7.
“It was shocking to get the news of visa rejection 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” a Baptist leader said.
The Baptist World Alliance is a worldwide alliance of Baptist churches and organizations, formed in 1905 in London during the first Baptist World Congress. The Baptist World Alliance maintains ecumenical relations with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
Meghalaya chief minister 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 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 on Wednesday 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”, Alphons said.
A message on the 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 while saying Congress is going overboard to politicize the issue.
Tura Lok Sabha MP Conrad K Sangma has written to external minister Sushma Swaraj seeking her intervention on the issue.
The Meghalaya Pradesh Congress Committee also slammed the BJP-led NDA government for allegedly rejecting visa to president of Baptist World Alliance Dr Paul Msiza of South Africa.
“This matter cannot be seen in isolation of just a visa denial. It exposes the mind-set of the present dispensation, the BJP party and their masters in Nagpur. The saffron brigade will stop at nothing to pursue their agenda of Hindutva,” Congress MP Vincent H Pala said on Thursday.
“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. The repeated denial of visa by the BJP Government to Christian missionaries to Meghalaya is condemnable in the strongest possible term,” Pala added.