NEW DELHI — An investigative book by senior journalist Anto Akkara has challenged the Christian conspiracy theory about the sensational murder of a Hindu leader in 2008 that triggered massive anti-Christian violence in the Kandhamal district of the Indian state of Odisha. (Disclosure: Anto Akkara is a National Catholic Register correspondent.)
“Kandhamal tale in new light,” said the headline of an article in The Telegraph newspaper, following the initial May 5 release of Akkara’s book, Who Killed Swami Laxmanananda?
The release was conducted at New Delhi’s Constitution Club, by veteran Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar.
“The book … gives details about sequence of events demolishing the theory of Christian conspiracy,” wrote The Telegraph — the most popular English daily in eastern India where Odisha is located — about the murder of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 23, 2008.
The Hindu national daily, which has a large readership in south India, titled its own article about the release as “Book questions Kandhamal,” while the Press Trust of India, India’s premier news service, ran the headline “Christian community falsely framed in Saraswati killing — Book.”
“Politics and religion should never be allowed to mix,” declared the 93-year-old Nayar, known as the patriarch of Indian journalism, at the New Delhi book release.
“The country cannot be ruled by a certain religion, but by the Constitution. The idea of India is in danger today,” said Nayar, who became a national celebrity when he was imprisoned for opposing Prime Minister Indira Gahdhi’s internal emergency, which was criticized as being draconian, promulgated in 1975.
Making a multi-media presentation at the book release, Akkara showed how the Hindu leader’s murder and the consequent attacks on the Christians were “pre-planned and carried out by forces who had envisaged the collateral damage.”
Via years of research, Akkara has recounted in his 318-page compilation the conspiracy that he says lies behind the murder that led to the worst persecution of Christians in India’s history.
The murder of the 81-year old Hindu leader, according to Akkara, resulted from a boastful and indiscreet statement the slain Hindu leader had made that would subsequently be utilized by anti-Christian conspirators as “evidence” that the murder they carried out themselves was instead committed by Christian zealots.
In support of this contention, Akkara played a 30-second video clip of the Swami’s statement.
“The actual intention of the Europe, U.S., the Pope and Sonia Gandhi [leader of then-ruling Congress party] was to convert the entire region into the independent Christian land ... God has sent me from Himalaya and it was stalled. That is why their campaign was to drive away swamiji [revered religious teachers] and create a Christian land. As long as I am alive I shall not let you do that.”
This claim, Akkara revealed, is taken from is a secret Hindu nationalist propaganda CD titled “The Agony of Kandhamal” that he got hold of accidentally. The slain swami had made the claim, posted on YouTube by Akkara, in an undated interview with a Hindu nationalist friendly media team.
“So it was easy to spread rumors that the Christian community was behind the killing of the leader,” said Akkara, who made 23 fact-finding trips to the remote Kandhamal district.
The supari (contract) killing of the swami, according to Akkara, was carefully timed for the night of the Hindu festival of Janmashtami that celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna, and rumors were instantly spread blaming the Christians for the murder.
The swami’s trusted police bodyguard was missing when he was slain, Akkara noted. “All this points to the fact that it was a pre-planned supari killing by Christian baiters.”
For inexplicable reasons, he said, doctors were rushed to the swami’s jungle ashram (retreat) on the night of the murder and asked to “rush with” the formality of a post mortem. And from early morning, the body was taken out in funeral procession along a zigzag route for two days through Christian-dominated areas, with an alleged intent to incite illiterate Hindus masses to target the Christians.
“The Christians in Kandhamal were asked to forsake their faith as they had killed the swami,” Akkara recounted.
The target was the vibrant Christian community in the remote region. When weeks of unabated violence subsided, he said, nearly 100 Christians had become martyrs while 300 churches and 6,000 Christian houses were plundered rendering more than 56,000 Christians refugees.
“But shockingly, hardly anyone is in jail for these crimes because the judicial system has been subverted,” Akkara stated.
On the contrary, he regretted that “seven innocent Christians are languishing in jail” since their arrest in late 2008 and subsequent conviction and sentencing to life imprisonment in October 2013 for the Hindu leader’s murder in a verdict delivered by a third judge after two other judges were transferred.
“This travesty of justice,” Akkara said, “has been perpetrated by an octopus [of Hindu nationalists] that has spread its tentacles to the edifice of the nation.”
“Soon after the murder seven Christians were picked up randomly by the [Hindu] fundamentalists and handed over to the police as the Swami’s killers. That’s how Christian theory was spread. They were let off by the police after 40 days,” said Akkara, pointing to four of them who were on the podium to release the investigative book.
Subsequently, police arrested seven other innocent Christians — six of them illiterates — from remote jungle villages and put them on trial as the “killers” of the Hindu leader.
Hindu Nationalist Involvement
Akkara, seeking to prove their innocence after years of fruitless efforts, was helped inadvertently by top Hindu nationalist leader Ram Madhav who made a “harmony visit” to the head of the Catholic church in Kerala in 2012 and gifted him a few books and DVDs.
Aware of Akkara’s passion for Kandhamal, the prelate passed on these gifts to him following a coincidental telephone chat on the same day.
Among the Hindu nationalist propaganda documents was a voluminous book on Kandhamal violence published by the India Foundation in 2009.
The book — purportedly written by an American anthropologist named Michael Parker — describes Christianity as a “defeated truth,” spreads canards against Christianity and reinforces the alleged Christian conspiracy behind the murder of the Hindu swami.
The foreword to the book, Harvest of Hate – Kandhamal in Crossfire, is written by Nirmala Sitharaman, as India Foundation director, who is presently a minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Najendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.
The book was published from an anonymous apartment in a Delhi suburb, and Akkara was amazed in October 2015 when he identified the apartment’s owner after dogged investigation. It was owned by Ajit Kumar Doval, former chief of india’s Intelligence Bureau, who was elevated to serve as National Security Advisor by Prime Minister Modi immediately after his Hindu nationalist BJP won a landslide victory in May 2014.
“The same book is now being marketed as “ORISSA in the CROSSFIRE — Kandhamal Burning” by a different author Brannon Parker, and it has been submitted to the U.S. State Department,” Akkara said.
“From the content and its clumsy language alone, anyone can easily conclude that this ‘double Parker book’ is a cut and paste job from the India Foundation,” Akkara said, holding aloft both books in his hands.
“If Christians had killed the swami, why should the top leadership of the Hindu nationalists carry out such a massive fraud and propaganda?” Akkara asked.
The journalist author called for signing the online petition he is anchoring for the release of the seven convicted Christians, at the website release7innocents.com.
Two and half years after they filed appeal against the conviction in Odisha’s High Court, he said, “the appeal has not come up for hearing yet.”
Akkara earlier authored earlier four books on Kandhamal, two each from secular and faith perspectives: Kandahamal — a blot on Indian Secularism, and Kandhamal Craves for Justice; and Shining Faith in Kandhamal, and Early Christians of 21st Century, released by Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, in February 2013.
Later that year, journalist-author received the Blessed Titus Brandsma Award for journalism, instituted in memory of a Dutch Carmelite editor who was incarcerated by the Nazis for writing an editorial against Hitler and died in the Dachau concentration camp in 1942.
Register correspondent Rita Joseph writes from New Delhi, India.