By Harihar Swarup
First, it was Sadhvi Niranjan Joyti’s controversial remark— Ramzade versus Haramzade —then Sakshi Maharaj, praising assassin of Mahatma Gandhi, Nathu Ram Godse, followed by Hindu Mahasabha’s demand that Godse’s bust be installed at public places throughout the country. As if this was not enough, U.P. Governor, Ram Naik, a sober leader, raked up unnecessarily the issue of Ram Mandir, forgetting that he now is a Constitutional authority. Added to this, External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, kicked up yet another row by demanding that Geeta be declared a national treatise. Geeta is, after all, a 5000-year-old religious book like Koran and Bible. Its sermons are universally respected and to demand that it be declared as a national document is ridiculous. It is like demanding that ‘Hanumanji” be given Bharat Ratna.
Further, President of the BJP unit of UP, Lakshmikant Bajpai, said Taj Mahal was a Hindu temple. As if BJP’s front organizations and few of the party’s 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 demanding 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, who went in exile along with Lord Ram and, PM’s wife, Yashodaben, to Urmila (Laxman’s wife). Urmila indeed made great sacrifice 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 she is still living alone. And, look at Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Venkaiah Naidu, who suggested that union capital Delhi’s name be changed to Inraprasta or Hashtinapur, capital of Kauravas and Pandavas. Delhi has its own place in India’s history. It has a long history, including a history as the capital of several empires. Though settlements have been dated to have been in existence in Delhi for millennia, there is no record to stand by that claim. Delhi is generally considered a close to 5000-year old city. It is ridiculous to suggest that Delhi’s name be changed.
So far Modi Government has been doing well and the Prime Minister praised world over. His foreign visits have been success but, it appears, the front organizations of the BJP like VHP, Bajrang Dal, Dharam Jagriti Samiti and some narrow minded leaders of the ruling party are bent upon giving issue after issue to a demoralized and heavily mauled Congress party. By the current drive of conversion, the BJP will make it sure that in the next election Muslims, Christians, other minorities and secular minded Hindus en bloc desist from voting the BJP. Instead of consolidating its base in minorities, the BJP is most tactlessly alienating them. The results will be that years of their struggle will be lost.
Most controversial issue was of religious conversion or “Ghar wapsi”, as the RSS activists call it, and it rocked parliament, particularly the Rajya Sabha. An impasse has built up in the Upper House with the Opposition insisting that the prime minister make a statement on the conversion issues, and the government refusing to give in to that demand. The issue itself is an important and sensitive one, and arguably deserving prime minister’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 public domain with social participation? 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, but as the Supreme Court has held, the right to propagate a religion does not include any ‘right’ to convert other people. The December 8 ‘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 the two communities. Such conversions by themselves are not problematic unless there is evidence of force or fraud.
But opposition parties saw in the exercise another attempt at communal polarization by Hindutva with ideological affinity to the Sangh parivar and the BJP. Moreover, many of the 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 the organizations involved in the mass conversions to link state benefits to a return to Hinduism.
Many of those who were converted have returned to Islam saying they agreed to convert on the promise of material benefits, but this is no argument against original conversion. Actually, at the heart of this conversion from one religion to another, whether of individual or clusters of families, whether they result in social tensions or not, 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. (IPA Service)