Why the RSS chief is not entirely wrong about Mother Teresa

Photo source: IANS

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s comment to the effect that that there was an ulterior motive behind Mother Teresa’s services to the poor and the dying has let out a storm of protests, engulfing Parliament too.

The chief cause of the uproar has been Bhagwat’s insinuation that uppermost in the mind of the ‘saint of the gutter’, Mother Teresa, was her religious fervour — to convert those she served into Christians — and not purely the zeal to serve.

What are the facts?

It is a no-brainer that Mother Teresa gave the poorest of the poor and the most destitute of the streets shelter, clothing and medicine. More importantly, she went beyond just their material needs.

She once said, “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty.”

Mother Teresa, most of all, addressed that “poverty” of fulfilling the greatest human needs — for dignity, for being loved and being cared. There can be very little debate on that score.

But if we address the question that the RSS chief raised, namely, the question of motive, then, we are on thinner ground.

And, that is borne out by exactly what she herself said as her prime motivation for her service.

This is what she told her biographer, Navin Chawla: “A lot of people confuse me as social worker, I am not a social worker. I am in the service of Jesus and my job is to spread the word of Christianity and bring people to its fold.”

Then again, in 1992, in California, she stressed her religious inspiration by admitting that the Missionaries of Charity were not exactly averse to baptism at the death bed.

“We ask the person (on his deathbed), do you want a blessing by which your sins will be forgiven and you receive God? They have never refused”, she said.

Image source: iStock
Image source: iStock

Her propensity to stress the religious motivation had ruffled many feathers much, much before the Bhagwat comment.

Two of the most notable of those who have been riled are author and polemicist Christopher Hitchens and feminist Germaine Greer. While Hitchens wrote a whole and controversial book, The Missionary Position, to oppose the Mother, Greer was more curt in her criticism.

Anointing the Mother as “religious imperialist”, Greer told The Independent in March, 1999.

“That was always crystal clear. She cared for the poor of Calcutta not for love of them or out of commitment to any ideal of social justice, but for love of Christ.”

An almost exact echo of what Bhagwat said in Bharatpur on Monday, raising hackles and controversy.

So, there is no doubt that Mother Teresa provided for the poorest of poor in Kolkata in their dying seconds.

But on the question of motive, at the least, the jury is out.