Millennium Post


First, it was Union Minister Sadhvi Niranjan Joyti’s controversial remark, ‘Ramzade versus Haramzade’, which was soon followed by BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj comments, praising Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin, Nathu Ram Godse. These remarks were soon followed by the Hindu Mahasabha’s demand that Godse’s bust be installed at public places throughout the country. As if this was not enough, Uttar Pradesh Governor Ram Naik, a sober leader, unnecessarily raked up the Ram Mandir issue, forgetting that he now holds constitutional office. If such remarks were not enough, External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj kicked up yet another row by demanding that the Bhagvad Gita be declared a national treatise. After all the Gita is a 5000-year-old religious book like the Koran and Bible. Its sermons are universally respected, though to demand that it be declared as a national document is ridiculous. It is like demanding that ‘Hanumanji” be given a Bharat Ratna.

Further, the president of the BJP unit in UP Lakshmikant Bajpai said that Taj Mahal was a Hindu temple. It seems as if BJP’s front organisations and few of its party leaders were bent upon destroying the creditability of the ruling party at the centre. Former editor of RSS mouthpiece Panchajanya, Tarun Vijay, now a Rajya Sabha member, cut a sorry figure, having demanded that Tamil be declared a national language. It was an embarrassing moment for the BJP when Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitaraman pointed out that Tamil is already a national language.

Sakshi Maharaj became a laughing stock, when in a bid to praise Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he compared him to Laxman, a mythological figure who was in-exile with Lord Ram. The PM’s estranged wife Yashodaben was compared to Urmila, Laxman’s wife. Urmila indeed made great sacrifices by living without her husband for 14 years. But how about Yashodaben? Everyone knows the story and it need not be repeated. The fact remains that she still lives alone. And, look at Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Venkaiah Naidu, who suggested that New Delhi’s name should be changed to Inraprasta or Hashtinapur, the capital of Kauravas and Pandavas. Delhi has its own place in India’s history. It has a long history, incluing a history as the capital of several empires. Though settlements in Delhi have been in existence for millennia, there is no record to stand by that claim. Delhi is generally considered a city that is close to 5000-year old. It is ridiculous to suggest that Delhi’s name be changed.

So far the Modi-led government has been doing reasonably well. His foreign visits have been successful. Though it now appears that front organisations of the BJP like VHP, Bajrang Dal, Dharam Jagriti Samiti and some narrow minded leaders of the ruling party are bent upon creating one controversy or another that threatens to dislodge India’s secular identity. In light of the current conversion drive, the BJP make it sure that in the next election Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities, besides secular minded Hindus will desist en bloc from voting for the BJP. Instead of consolidating its base in minority communities, the BJP is most tactlessly alienating them. The results will be that years of their struggle will be lost.

The most controversial issue was of religious conversion or “Ghar wapsi”, as the RSS activists call it. It rocked Parliament, particularly the Rajya Sabha. An impasse has been built up in the Upper House with the Opposition insisting that the Prime Minister make a statement on the conversion issue. The government has refused to give in to that demand. The issue itself is an important and sensitive one, and arguably deserves Modi’s intervention.

Is the practice of religion a deeply private affair, confined to values and belief systems at the level of the individual, or is it an open community activity, carried out in the public domain? Does one person’s right to practice his or her religion come in conflict with another person’s right to propagate his or her religion? These are only some of the questions that have come up following attempts at mass religious conversions by politically affiliated outfits.

The right to choose a religion of one’s choice is fundamental to the freedom of the religion. However, as the Supreme Court has held, the right to propagate a religion does not include any ‘right’ to convert other people. The 8 December ‘conversion’ of scores of Muslims families to Hinduism created political furore for more than one reason. Mass conversions from one religion to another are usually political in nature, and they almost always create tensions between both communities. Such conversions by themselves are not problematic unless there is evidence of force or fraud.

Opposition parties, however, saw the exercise of mass conversions as yet another attempt at communal polarisation by Hindutva elements with an ideological affinity to the Sangh Parivar and the BJP. Moreover, many political opponents of the BJP were alarmed at the efforts to lure poor Muslims slum-dwellers with state-conferred benefits such as ration cards. While material inducements for religious conversion, even if morally abhorrent, are not rare or illegal, the Opposition saw the government as being complicit in the effort by organisations involved in the mass conversions after they established a link between state benefits and a return to Hinduism.

Many of those who converted have returned to Islam, saying they agreed to convert on the promise of material benefits. Actually, at the heart of this conversion from one religion to another, whether of individual or clusters of families, irrespective of social tensions, is of no real concern so long as there is no force or fraud involved. Those who want to ban conversion on the basis of material inducements should instead concentrate on fighting poverty and deprivation.
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