From a Correspondent
Tura, Feb 8: The rejection of visa application to a Christian preacher by the India Consulate in South Africa, who was scheduled to attend 150 years of Christianity at Rajasimla in North Garo Hills, has created an uproar among the community in Garo Hills.
Dr Paul Msiza, president of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), the religious head of the Baptist World Community, was scheduled to visit Meghalaya to witness the celebrations from Thursday.
An official release from Baptist organization said Dr Msiza had applied for visa on January 29 and was apprised of the rejection in the evening of February 7.
In poll-bound Meghalaya, the issue has taken a political colour with social media users terming it as “anti-Christian” attitude of the BJP government.
Dr Msiza was scheduled to travel from Johannesburg in South Africa. His visa application was rejected by the Consulate General of India in Johannesburg on Wednesday.
“It was 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 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 an agenda of the Central government against the Christian community.
“Where are the voices of dissent within the NDA allies? It is time we sought answers from those in power. I extend my full support to my people in Garo Hills. It is unfortute that a spiritual leader of this stature cannot attend the Garo Baptist Convention’s celebrations at Rajasimla. I demand that this is resolved at the earliest,” the social media post of Chief Minister read.
However, Union Tourism Minister KJ Alphons clarified that the preacher’s visa application had already been reopened to facilitate his arrival to India to attend the celebration.
“lin Kohli was apprised of it yesterday morning and I was informed by the authority concerned about it in the afternoon. We immediately took up the matter at our level with Exterl Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj who in turn had persolly called Indian Consulate in South Africa to reopen the application at the earliest,” said Alphons.
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 notiolly equated with His Excellency the Pope. Sabka sath, sabka vikash?”
Clarifying the claims of the social media message Alphons said, “The Baptist organization never got in touch with BJP leaders. I’m in Meghalaya and nobody rang me up regarding the issue. On Wednesday, I had a long chat with a senior Baptist leader of the country but they never discussed about any visa application.”
Ruing that the issue is being “commulized”, Alphons said, “Everyday hundreds of people are denied visa irrespective of their religious backgrounds. America and Europe reject 50 per cent visa application, but why is a single application being singled out to term us anti-Christian. The Ministry of Exterl Affairs has to follow standard protocol”.
Tura Lok Sabha MP Conrad K. Sangma has written to Exterl Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj seeking her intervention on the issue.