23 May 2006 # IANS
New Delhi: India Tuesday said its reaction to Pope Benedict XVI's remarks on the country's alleged religious intolerance was "firm, appropriate and timely".
Minister of state for External Affairs Anand Sharma said the government had summoned the charge d'affaires of the Holy See in New Delhi and conveyed its displeasure over the papal remarks.
"In no uncertain terms, the government of India disapproves the (Pope's) statement and was displeased by it," Sharma told the Rajya Sabha.
In a strong message last week, Pope Benedict XVI, who took over the reins of one billion plus Roman Catholics in the world 13 months ago, spoke to New Delhi's envoy to Vatican Amitava Tripathi about some Indian states banning religious conversion through legislation.
"There are disturbing signs of religious intolerance which have troubled some regions of India, including the reprehensible attempt to legislate clearly discriminatory restrictions on the fundamental right of religious freedom," the pope was quoted as saying.
Responding to allegation of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was "silent" over the Pope's statement that was "grossly unwarranted", Sharma said: "I would like to assure the house that the government of India's response was firm, appropriate and timely."
It was pointed out to the papacy representative that the pontiff was "not properly briefed about secularism and religious tolerance in India", Sharma said.
Raising the issue in the upper house of parliament during the zero hour, senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad condemned Vatican's intervention and said: "The statements were grossly unwarranted. We protest it strongly. We condemn it".
BJP-ruled Rajasthan has recently passed legislation banning religious conversions, but it has been awaiting the state governor's assent.
In a letter to the Pope, BJP chief Rajnath Singh has expressed his unhappiness over his remarks.
"As head of Vatican, you will agree that my interference in your religious domain within the sphere of Vatican influence will be unwelcome, uncalled for, and will be treated as an interference in your religious management and administration," Singh said in the letter.
Pointing out that India is a sovereign country and is free to enact its own laws, he urged the pope to "exercise restraint" in reactions or "harsh reactions may generate militant mood between the society to the detriment of harmony".