The leader of a prominent Hindu group has received criticism after he insisted that the humanitarian work of the late Mother Teresa is "devalued" because she only helped those in need in an effort to convert them to Christianity.
Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sagh (RSS) NGO, made his controversial comments while inaugurating an orphanage and women's home in Bharatpur during a tour of the north-western state of Rajasthan.
After declaring the facility "would not provide a service like that rendered by Mother Teresa," he added, "Mother Teresa's service might have been good, but there was a motive behind it-to convert the person being served to Christianity."
"The question is not about conversion but if this conversion is done in the name of service, then that service gets devalued," he was quoted by the Press Trust of India as saying.
Mother Teresa, an Albanian Roman Catholic nun, is a global symbol of charity and goodwill, having spent the majority of her life ministering to the poverty-stricken and suffering in Calcutta, one of the country's poorest regions. Before her death in 1997, she founded the Missionaries of Charity and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her "work in bringing help to suffering humanity."
Bhagwat's comments have infuriated many religious leaders, including Father Savarimuthu Sankar, a spokesperson for the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese.
"It is a very sad statement," he told NDTV, as reported by the Independent. "We are downgrading her when she is not even alive. If she has really converted people, please bring us dates and we will answer to that."
Additionally, Sunita Kumar, a spokeswoman for the Missionaries of Charity, told the Indian news channel NDTV that Mr. Bhagwat was "ill-informed," according to the New York Times.
"Mr. Bhagwat, her only motive was to serve the poor and give them love and care," Ms. Kumar said of Mother Teresa, adding that the nun had received significant criticism for her work in India at a time when Christian missionary work was rapidly decreasing.
"For several years there was criticism, and her only reaction used to be, 'Let's pray for them,' " Ms. Kumar said.
However, Meenakshi Lekhi, national spokesperson for Modi's ruling BJP party, argued that Bhagwat's comments may not actually be that far off the mark.
"Mother Teresa herself during an interview said that 'a lot of people confuse me as a 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,"' Lekhi quoted the nun as saying in an interview with the Times of India.
This is not the first time Mother Teresa has been publically criticized. In 2013, a Canadian University journal released a paper written by a group of atheists that claimed to have found evidence of the nun's "rather dubious way of caring for the sick, her questionable political contacts, her suspicious management of the enormous sums of money she received, and her overly dogmatic views regarding, in particular, abortion, contraception, and divorce."
At the time, Celeste Owen-Jones of The Huffington Post wrote an article denouncing the attack on Mother Teresa, adding that the Catholic nun and other famous people throughout history have often had their work questioned.
"I'm sure that Mother Teresa would have been the last one bothered by these criticisms, because she had far more important things to take care of," wrote Owen Jones, an associate producer for HuffPost Live who has volunteered with the sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, in Calcutta and in Cuzco.
"Who are we, sitting in our office or in the comfort of our home in our cocoon-like world, hiding behind books and computers, to criticize a woman who abandoned everything to spend her life and bring attention to the forgotten of this world? The day someone will lead a similar life to Mother Teresa's and still criticize the way she acted, then I will truly respect that opinion. But unsurprisingly that day still hasn't come."