NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Modi had a quiet, one-to-one with Pope Francis at the Vatican just ahead of the G-20 summit on Saturday. There were no details immediately available as to what transpired and Modi’s comments conveyed even less: “Had a very warm meeting with Pope Francis. I had the opportunity to discuss a wide range of issues with him and invited him to visit India.”
The meeting lasted an hour and it is presumed that the Pope has accepted Modi’s invitation. The Catholic Church in India is the largest Christian church with an estimated 20 million adherents. Christians however count for a little over 2% of the total population although highly educated and progressive.
The visit maybe seen in some quarters as Modi moving to address international concerns about minority rights in India. Recall US Vice President Kamala Harris observation during her meeting with Modi last month in Washington DC when she said: “It is imperative that we defend democratic principles and institutions,” seen as oblique criticism of the Modi government’s policies.
The one-on-one meeting which was the first meeting between an Indian Prime Minister and the Pope in more than two decades – the last one being between former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the John Paul II in June 2000 – was confirmed on Friday, at a late-night briefing in Rome by foreign secretary Harsh Shringla.
“I know that the Prime Minister will have a separate call; he will be meeting His Holiness on a one-to-one basis. And that could, after a certain period of time, be followed up by delegation level talks. The Vatican has not set an agenda. I believe, tradition is not to have an agenda when you discuss issues with His Holiness. And I think we would respect that,” he said
Post the meeting, Prime Minister Modi headed back to Rome for the G20 summit meeting where he was seen interacting with US President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, British and Canadian Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Justin Trudeau and the Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong among others.
*As far as the G20 was concerned, foreign secretary Harsh Shringla said that India’s stance was clear. India was convinced that “shared problems require shared solutions.” On global crises such as climate change were concerned, Shringla added that India today was “in the frontline among the countries that intend to take action to save the planet.”
“Massive investments have been made to increase the country’s renewable energy resources, and today India can be said to be well underway in the transition phase. It is well known that India has the lowest per capita CO2 emissions among the G20 countries, whose impact is estimated at 1.9 tonnes per capita. But this has not dissuaded India not only from entering into specific commitments to achieve the Paris objectives, but even to surpass them,” he said.
The reference to the climate was essential as the two-day summit is likely to see tough negotiations on global warming and the need to cap global warming temperatures.
According to reports, a leaked version of the draft statement stated that leaders remained “committed to the (2015) Paris Agreement goal to hold the global average temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.”
The statement also spoke about “the key relevance” for all major nations to achieve “net-zero carbon emissions” by the middle of this century. Whether India will agree to this or not remains to be seen.