Bihar shows India’s intolerance against Hindutva forces

The elections in Bihar once again signalled at the electoral rejection of emotive Hindutva issues as RJD-JD(U)-Congress combine emerged victorious despite intense campaigning by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Image: PTI)

The elections in Bihar once again signalled at the electoral rejection of emotive Hindutva issues as RJD-JD(U)-Congress combine emerged victorious despite intense campaigning by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Image: PTI)

The electoral victory of the mahagathbandhan in Bihar has come as a big boost for Lalu Prasad Yadav who was on the verge of political extinction. By emerging as the single largest party, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has successfully exhibited its popularity among Biharis. What is astonishing is that Lalu’s popularity has risen despite his conviction by a CBI court in the fodder scam.

On the other hand, Nitish Kumar of Janata Dal United or JD (U) has won for himself a third term as Chief Minister of Bihar. Along with the likes of Arvind Kejriwal, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mamata Banerjee, Jayalalitha and Naveen Patnaik, Nitish Kumar is sure to be touted as the one of ablest men to lead a third front assault on the two national parties, particularly the BJP, in the times to come.

However, the most interesting take away from the landslide victory of RJD-JD(U)-Congress combine is the continuing trend of decisive mandates. Post 2012, states like Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kolkata, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra, and now Bihar, have overwhelmingly voted in favour of a particular party or coalition. The general elections in 2014 too exhibited a similar pattern. The notable exceptions to this phenomenon were Delhi and Jammu & Kashmir.

In 2013, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) fought elections for the first time turning battlefield Delhi into a triangular contest between BJP, Congress and AAP. This led to AAP and BJP narrowly missing out on the magic number and what followed next was a short lived Congress supported AAP government. Thereafter, when elections were held again in early 2015, the verdict of Delhi-walas was entirely one sided and brought AAP absolute majority.

As far as Jammu and Kashmir elections of 2014 are concerned, though the verdict was split, it was clear that the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was the chosen one in the valley while the BJP comfortably led in the region of Jammu. That way the election result was again decisive in nature and led to the formation of a coalition government comprising of PDP and BJP. Despite the confusion in the minds of pollsters and psephologists, the voter is acting very cleverly. The exit polls might predict a khichdi verdict or neck to neck competition but the voters are throwing up a clear mandate.

Secondly, the elections in Bihar once again signalled at the electoral rejection of emotive Hindutva issues. The voters in Uttar Pradesh rejected the false bogey of live jihad during the by-elections held in the state last year. The national capital voted against ghar wapsi and attacks on churches in February this year. Finally Bihar has voted against beef politics and fear mongering in the name of carving a religion based minority sub quota out of the reservation pie of Other Backward Castes or OBCs.

The writing on the wall is becoming increasingly clear for the BJP. It is time to perform or perish. The Prime Minister can manage any number of events, undertake as many foreign trips as he wishes to and campaign as vigorously as possible but if his government doesn’t deliver in terms of poverty alleviation, job creation and income equality, the electorate is going to show his party the door. The voter cannot be fooled simply on the basis of Hindutva and rhetoric.

When BJP lost in Delhi, the blame was shifted towards Kiran Bedi as she happened to be the party’s chief ministerial candidate. The same cannot be done in the case of Bihar as the BJP fielded no chief ministerial candidate with Modi being the outright leader. Even in Delhi, it was Modi who led the campaign all through but his failure was conveniently set aside. Modi is based out of Delhi. He along with his entire cabinet campaigned in Delhi yet they lost.

Prime Minister Modi left African leaders in Delhi to campaign in Bihar yet BJP lost. The lesson which is to be learnt is that Modi can be overcome electorally with the help of strong local leaders like Kejriwal, Nitish and Lalu. BJP must realize that it cannot always piggybank on Modi’s supposed PAN-India popularity. There is a dire need for cultivation of popular local leaders like Shivraj Singh Chauhan in Madhya Pradesh, Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh and Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan.

Another observation is that no matter what is proclaimed from 24 Akbar Road, Congress is on the decline. They drew a blank in Delhi but have performed reasonably well in Bihar. However, their vote share remains in single digit and the party is far from being the nationwide force it once used to be. If INC has chosen to eternally play second fiddle to the likes of JD(U), RJD and AAP then its altogether an entirely different story.

Politics in the country is becoming all the more BJP-centric. The vote in Bihar was against the BJP government at the centre as also against Hindutva. Those who are rushing and labelling the verdict as a victory of development oriented politics need to do a rethink. Lalu’s campaign rhetoric was less about development and more about a “battle between forward and backward castes.” Nitish’s masterstroke was in aligning with his bête noire Lalu to oust the BJP instead of holding a referendum on his ten year rule by going solo.

If Kejriwal won Delhi on the basis of populist politics, Lalu and Nitish have won Bihar by carving an alliance which none saw coming. It’s a triumph of complex caste arithmetic over Hindutva superimposition. The much talked about development politics had little relevance with both sides banking heavily on identity politics. The blunders committed in Bihar by the BJP should be carefully scrutinized but Lalu’s comeback in Bihar exemplifies that caste still lords over Bihar’s election castle. Modi sarkaar has indeed failed in fulfilling its tall promises but where was the vision of “maha gathbandhan” during Bihar elections? The people seem to have chosen the one whom they viewed as the “lesser evil”.

(This article was originally published in DailyO.)  

Why Subramanian Swamy doesn’t deserve to be JNU vice-chancellor

No university in this country can afford to have a hatemonger as its vice-chancellor who is best known for spewing venom and stoking rumours. (Image: Wikipedia)

No university in this country can afford to have a hatemonger as its vice-chancellor who is best known for spewing venom and stoking rumours. (Image: Wikipedia)

In an article titled “The RSS game plan” published in Frontline magazine (Volume 17 – Issue 02, Jan 22 – Feb 04, 2000) a Harvard-educated economist wrote, “Today the creeping fascism of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is coming upon us.” He mentioned that the RSS leaders were frustrated at the fact that “symbolically, the bhagwa dhwaj (saffron double triangle flag) does not yet flutter from the Red Fort; but the hated tricolour which no RSS office can hoist even on August 15, still does.”

He accused the RSS of conniving to convert India into a Hindu Rashtra and stated that the saffron organisation had also prepared a rough draft on the lines of which the new Indian Constitution would be framed. He wrote that as per this draft, “The present bicameral Parliament would be replaced by a three-tier structure. At the apex will be a Guru Sabha of sadhus and sanyasis (read the VHP activists)…. All legislation and money bills will have to originate in the Guru Sabha and be passed by it before being sent to the Lok Sabha. The Guru Sabha will also be the judicial commission to nominate the Supreme Court judges, and impeach them.”

He mentioned that “Christians are being targeted by the front organisations of the RSS in order to terrorise and ghetto-ise all minorities” and that Hindutva justice meant “minorities can best look forward to liberation through mercy killing.” Who was the author of this piece? The answer (much to the surprise of many Hindutva maniacs) is Dr Subramanian Swamy!

Hindutva heart-throb, 2G scam whistle-blower and modern India’s biggest conspiracy theorist Dr Subramanian Swamy has a political history worth reading. Not only did Dr Swamy oppose the Emergency imposed in 1975 by Indira Gandhi-led Congress party, he was also responsible for bringing down Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Bharatiya Janata Party government in 1999. As is visible from the extracts of the article Dr Swamy wrote several years back for Frontline magazine, he did not have much admiration for the kind of politics which was being played by the Sangh Parivar. In fact it appears that Dr Swamy detested Hindutva’s hate politics.

But things have changed now. After having spent many years in a state of political oblivion, Dr Swamy returned to the fore of Indian politics by blowing the lid off the 2G spectrum scam and advocating an extreme form of Hindutva. In the lead up to the 2014 General Elections, Dr Swamy officially merged his Janata Party with the BJP and formally became part of the Sangh Parivar.

This is nothing but a clear case of political opportunism. A person who vociferously criticised Hindutva politics in the past now happens to be one of its biggest advocates. News reports have suggested that Dr Subramanian Swamy has been offered the position of vice-chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University by the Union HRD ministry. People supporting his candidature might claim that he is a suitable candidate for the job as he possesses a PhD from the prestigious Harvard University and also attended the Hindu College at the Delhi University and Indian Statistical Institute in Kolkata while pursuing graduation and post graduation, respectively.

As far as his administrative accomplishments are concerned, Swamy is a five-time member of Parliament and has served as the Union law minister. He surely isn’t like Gajendra Chauhan who has been accused of being under qualified for the chairmanship of Film & Television Institute of India in Pune. Dr Swamy is a well-educated individual having substantial administrative experience but he certainly isn’t the right man to lead a university like JNU.

No university in this country can afford to have a hatemonger as its vice-chancellor who is best known for spewing venom and stoking rumours. Let us not forget that Dr Subramanian Swamy was expelled from Harvard University on account of his extremist views which became public following the publication of a bizarre article. Shortly after a terrorist attack in Mumbai on July 13, 2011, Dr Swamy wrote an article in DNA newspaper titled “How to wipe out Islamic terror” (July 16, 2011). This article became the reason behind the booting out of Dr Swamy from Harvard.

Dr Swamy who had earlier lambasted the RSS for aspiring to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra wrote, “Declare India a Hindu Rashtra in which non-Hindus can vote only if they proudly acknowledge that their ancestors were Hindus. Rename India Hindustan as a nation of Hindus and those whose ancestors were Hindus.” Does such a man deserve to be the vice-chancellor of a central university? In fact does he even deserve to be in public life? The founding fathers of the Indian Constitution rejected the notion of a Hindu Rashtra and established India as a secular state. They granted every Indian citizen universal adult suffrage.

But Dr Swamy does not agree with us. His contempt for the Constitution is visible from his own writings as he wants India to be converted into a Hindu Rashtra wherein non-Hindus will lose their right to vote and be elected as public representatives if they do not acknowledge their Hindu ancestry. Other unconstitutional suggestions of Dr Swamy included enacting “a national law prohibiting conversion from Hinduism to any other religion. Re-conversion (to Hinduism) will not be banned.” He also wanted to “remove the masjid in Kashi Vishwanath temple and the 300 masjids at other temple sites.”

That’s the kind of India that Dr Swamy envisions. Dreadful, isn’t it? A person who does not acknowledge India’s secular character and vouches for the creation of a Hindu Rashtra wherein Hindus and non-Hindus will not be equal citizens should never have been considered for any high office leave alone the office of the vice-chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University.

The students of JNU can never be expected to respect a person like Dr Swamy who has turned himself into a butt of jokes owing to his conspiracy theories which somehow tend to hint at the Hindu origins of every great innovation or invention that the world has witnessed. Dr Swamy belongs to that rare variety of political hypocrites who sometimes simultaneously espouse Hindutva chauvinism and minority politics. On one hand he stated, “If half the Hindus voted together, rising above caste and language, a genuine Hindu party would have a two-thirds majority in Parliament and the Assemblies” but he did not miss out on an opportunity to play the minority card while accusing the Congress of opposing Purno Sangma’s presidential candidacy in 2012 simply because he was a “Christian” and “tribal.”

There can be no defence for Dr Swamy’s irrational antics. Even Union HRD minister Smriti Irani cannot come out to justify Dr Swamy’s conception of India which is fascist, racist and discriminatory. Nor can she standby even one of Dr Swamy’s ridiculous conspiracy theories pertaining to the murder of Sanjay, Indira or Rajiv Gandhi. But then she might just do it as one does not expect much from an education, minister who stands accused of having lied about her own educational qualification.

The FTII row has failed to teach Modi sarkar a lesson. If there is even an iota of truth concerning Dr Swamy’s appointment as JNU VC then the BJP government should get prepared for a vicious backlash from academics and students who will not allow the communalisation of the country’s universities at the hands of individuals like Dr Swamy.

(This article was originally published in DailyO.) 

Colouring texts

When the Modi government was required to resolutely defend secularism and reiterate its commitment to the constitution, its External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was seen alongside VHP’s Ashok Singhal calling for national recognition for the Gita. (Image: Reuters)

When the Modi government was required to resolutely defend secularism and reiterate its commitment to the constitution, its External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was seen alongside VHP’s Ashok Singhal calling for national recognition for the Gita. (Image: Reuters)

Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj recently propped up the idea of making the Hindu scripture Gita, India’s national book. This is not the first time that Swaraj has demanded so. In December 2011, when a court in Siberia, Russia was considering a ban on Gita then too Swaraj as Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, the lower house of Indian parliament, echoed a similar viewpoint.

The statement could not have been more badly timed. Just days before, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti had made a hateful remark which led to an impasse in parliament. Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned her remarks, no action was taken against the hate-spewing Sadhvi.

The targeting of minorities has sharply increased ever since the BJP government came to power at the centre. In the capital city of New Delhi, riots in Trilokpuri area led to the imposition of curfew. Few weeks back, St. Sebastian Church was burnt down in the north-eastern region of the city. Instead of assuring the minorities of safety, BJP leaders are busy making controversial remarks like the Taj Mahal being a Hindu temple. Swaraj’s comments concerning the Gita are highly irresponsible.

The developments over the past few months have indeed created a suspicion in the minds of the people. Prior to the elections, the BJP sought to underplay the Hindutva card. But post elections, their real intentions have emerged on the fore. While the focus should be on development and championing industrial growth, attempts are being made to re-write history in the favour of right-wingers.

Politics is about creating the appropriate perception.

Many scholars have argued that the Gita is not a religious book but a discourse on philosophy with universal application. But this argument cannot be used as a justification to give it the status of a national book. The adherents of other faiths are bound to argue as to why does the government not recognize the universal essence of the teachings enunciated in religious books like Bible, Guru Granth Sahib and Quran?

Sectarian recognitions are bound to alienate minorities. Pakistan was born in 1947 as an “Islamic country”. At that time, the founders of Pakistan had assured the minorities of equality and freedom of religion. The “Islamic” tag was in no way supposed to hurt the rights of the minorities. Has that promise been upheld? Not only has the population of minorities steeply fallen, the state has institutionalized persecution of minorities. This was done by means of the Second Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan which declared Ahmadis as “non Muslims”. The writing on the wall is clear. Symbolic sectarian gestures pave the way for greater communal advances in the future.

A small demand concerning the Gita may set off dangerous precedents. In an op-ed piece for DNA, Subramian Swamy had suggested that India be declared as a Hindu Rashtra, a nation for the Hindus and those whose ancestors were Hindus. He went on to state that non-Hindus who did not recognize their Hindu ancestry should be stripped of their voting rights. This venomous piece of writing led to Swamy’s dismissal from Harvard but it continues to hold contemporary relevance.

If symbolic demands are given into, it would embolden the more radical Hindutva leaders like Swamy to call for fulfilment of their other outrageous needs. This is indeed a critical stage for Indian democracy. The Bharatiya Janata Party has for the very first time managed to win a majority of its own in the Lok Sabha. The test for BJP lies in resisting constitutional erosion. If Modi wants to deliver then he will not only have to clampdown on those from within his party who are trying to disturb the constitutional balance but also create a much larger public impression which doesn’t show this government as dancing to the tunes of the RSS.

(This article was originally published in Kashmir Life.)

A response to Hindu Rashrtra & Idea of India

Featured image

Representational Image via TCN

In an article published for The Millennium Post titled “Hindu Rashtra and the idea of India” (25th August, 2014), Delhi University Associate Professor Dr Sangit Ragi argued, “A river is always identified with and known after the dominant stream. So is the culture. When RSS talks of Hindu Rashtra it signifies the majoritarian makeup of this nation, which defines both its character and distinctiveness.” If we try and reconcile this analogy of Dr Ragi with the idea of India then we would but obviously conclude that India as a nation represents a culture which is Brahminic in nature, masculine in terms of gender and heavily tilted in favour of Hindi-speaking and comparatively fair skinned North Indians.

It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out that this interpretation of India is flawed since it only takes into account the dominant groups and conveniently ignores the innumerable minorities and linguistic tribes whose traditions are now intrinsically intertwined with the DNA of India.

Dr Ragi’s article is premised on justifying two controversial statements of RSS Sarsangchalak Mohan Bhagwat which were made when he was addressing the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Dr Ragi has carefully broken those two statements into three broad points which he identifies as the following, “India is a Hindu Rashtra and Hindutva is its national identity. Secondly, Hindutva has the unique capacity of assimilatory integration which no other religions have. Thirdly, the role of the Sangh should be to see that the Hindu society does not suffer from the social vices of untouchability and economic disparity. Hindus must come together leaving aside their social prejudices.” In order to justify these three points, Dr Ragi adapts three distinct lines of argument which can be classified as a classic rant of those who have come to be associated with the Hindu right wing movement in India.

In regards to the first point, Dr Ragi mentions that RSS’s claim of India being a Hindu Rashtra is nine decades old and that it “does not sync with the left liberal framework of interpreting India which is highly influenced by colonial and missionary historiography.” Dr Ragi argues that while the left might not identify India as a Hindu Rashtra, it is an idea which was even shared by Mahatma Gandhi whom Dr Ragi says the leftists “consider the father of the nation.” The veiled sarcasm which this statement contains clearly shows how apprehensive are RSS ideologues in regards to Gandhi’s stature as the Father of the Nation. They find themselves juxtaposed as they tend to argue that their conception of India is philosophically Gandhian while simultaneously trying to sympathize with the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi ie Nathuram Godse, formerly an RSS man.

Dr Ragi then delves into the beliefs of Gandhi and states how he considered India to be a nation much before the arrival of the English and goes onto mention Gandhi’s opposition to the Aryan Invasion Theory. He lists out a series of public figures and intellectuals whom he terms as “cultural nationalists” and those “who all subscribed to and located the nucleus of the Indian nation in Hindu culture and Hindu civilization.” Interestingly, on analysing the work of several people whom Dr Ragi has mentioned, it can be easily said that those persons themselves can be accused of Islamophobia. For example, in his book Satyarth Prakash, Arya Samaj founder Swami Dayanand Saraswati has related the Islamic concept of paradise to that of a brothel. In an interview to the Editor of Prabuddha Bharat (April 1899), Saffron saint Vivekananda while talking about conversions and re-conversions declared, “And then every man going out of the Hindu pale is not only a man less, but an enemy the more.” In two successive articles titled “Myths about the Swami”, Arun Shourie, another mascot of Hindutva, discusses about Vivekananda’s views on Islam, Quran and Muslims wherein he quotes him as saying, “For instance, the Mohammedan religion allows Mohammedans to kill all who are not of their religion. It is clearly stated in the Koran ‘Kill the infidels if they do not become Mohammedans.’ They must be put to fire and sword.”

Even Mahatma Gandhi cannot be completely absolved of harbouring Islamophobia since he had his own prejudices in relation to Islam/Muslims. In an article titled “What may Hindus do” (Young India, 19 June, 1924), Gandhi writes, “The Mussalman generally being in a minority has as a class developed into a bully. Moreover, being heir to fresh traditions he exhibits the virility of a comparatively new system of life. Though in my opinion non-violence has a predominant place in the Quran, the thirteen hundred years of imperialistic expansion has made the Mussalmans fighters as a body. They are therefore aggressive. Bullying is the natural excrescence of an aggressive spirit.”

The larger point pertains to the fact that if these “cultural nationalists” were so bigoted in their thinking and dared to associate Islam with brothels, violence, terror, intimidation and bullying then how their beliefs in regards to the idea of India be considered as supreme? The idea of India is too complex and massive to be associated with the thinking of a particular set of people. It resides into the hearts, minds and lives of a billion plus Indians and not merely icons whose ideology matches that of the RSS.

Going further, Dr Ragi quotes Nehru to suggest how India’s first Prime Minister associated Indian culture with Hindu culture and applauded the assimilatory nature of the religion, an argument which was simply echoed by Bhagwat. In the next couple of paragraphs, Dr Ragi praises the culture of debates and open thinking in Hinduism while debunking the Semitic faiths of Islam and Christianity as “intolerant towards others” simply because they “operate through revealed ideas, through one text and one prophet.” This is one subject wherein the Hindu nationalists tend to be highly ignorant.

Probably they are unaware of the fact that there are multiple interpretations of the Bible and the Quran. In the case of the Bible, there is even difference in the text of the revealed book belonging to the different denominations. Biblical criticism is no alien to Christian civilization and they can in no way be considered as inferior to Hindus in terms of engagement in religious debates and scriptural criticism. Similarly, Islam has also had its fair share of debate and discussion. Besides the Quran, Muslims refer to several Hadiths which are an account of the Prophet’s sayings and actions. Different denominations hold different account of Hadiths to be authentic and hence exists heterogeneity which is overpowered by the homogenous belief in but one God.

The Hindu right’s attempt to portray Semitic religions as parochial is an argument in vain. Christian and Islam are not premised on one idea. There are multiple ideas concerning belief in God, worship, rituals, pilgrimage as also other things like marriage and sexuality. The ideas are flowing not from solely Muhammad and Jesus but from the life and teachings of numerous prophets including Noah, Abraham and Moses. These ideas are enunciated in the Holy Book ie the Bible and the Quran, respectively and further enumerated in other books authored by human beings. Hadiths and Seerahs can be a case in point. How is this tradition different from Hinduism? In Hinduism, Vedas are considered to be the revealed text and other books serve as an extension to the Vedic ideology. This shows that the Hindu nationalist is being dishonest when he is trying to relegate Semitic religions to an inferior intellectual status.

Every religion has been engaged in tussles which have led to large-scale bloodshed. When Dr Ragi drags in Nehru to say that religious fanaticism was alien to “Indian culture” (to be read as “Hindu Culture”), why does he not mention about the gruesome persecution of Buddhists at the hands of Brahmins during the time of Pusyamitra Sunga? Dr Ragi speaks of Hinduism’s assimilatory nature by referring to Buddhism and Jainism but why does he not refer to the Jain community’s struggle of being granted minority status instead of being identified as Hindus? Why doesn’t Dr Ragi try and explain the reasons because of which Hinduism’s assimilatory nature has failed to take within its ambit the Dalits and other lower castes? Every religion and religious community faces its own issues. To hold Semitic religions as barbaric and intolerant and to do nothing apart from singing praise of the Hindu civilization is an act of intellectual dishonesty.

In one of his concluding paragraphs, Dr Ragi says, “It (RSS’s idea of Hindu Rashtra) does not ask Muslims and Christians and other religious denominations to dissolve their faith and start following the Hindu religion. It is merely asking the non-native faiths which emerged due to conversion of the native population at certain point of history not to denigrate their forefathers and share and own up the common cultural tradition.” He cites the example of Indonesia and mentions how the country has honoured its Hindu past and tradition by referring to the country’s national symbol and airlines. While speaking of such practises, he says, “That neither has weakened Islam nor have they belittled Islam.”

By referring to Indonesia, Dr Ragi has made a grave error. He probably doesn’t know of the length to which Indonesia has gone to safeguard its minorities and make them feel secure. A case in point could be the fact that during the drafting of the Indonesian Constitution, the word Allah in the Constitution was replaced by the word Tuhan which even the Hindus of Indonesia could relate with. RSS men might argue what’s in a name but when they insist Muslims and Christians to identify themselves as “culturally Hindu”, they are inadvertently doing the right opposite of what Indonesia did, a country which even BJP patriarch Lal Krishna Advani too has praised in the past.

In an article which spans over 1,600 words, Dr Ragi has only devoted 167 words while talking about what the Sangh Parivar is doing to end untouchability and create greater cohesion within the Hindu community. The word count is reflective of the dichotomy which faces the Sangh Parivar. Instead of devoting their energy and time in trying to prove why India is a Hindu Rashtra, why Hindutva its principle identity and why all Indians are culturally Hindus, the Sangh Parivar should concentrate on breaking the barriers of caste within the Hindu community. They should help in the evolvement of a Dalit narrative in this country and not subscribe to the age-old Brahimic supremacism. If they do so, they shall certainly justify their claims of working towards cultural assimilation because their other objectives are far from being assimilatory but are rather overtly polarizing.

(This article was originally published on

Subversion of Religious Freedom in India by Anti-Conversion Laws

Over the past one decade, the state governments in India have been categorically working towards institutionalizing Hindutva by means of promulgating anti-conversion laws. The reason why this move can be associated with Hindutva is because it was Vinayak Damaodar Savarkar, Father of Hindutva Fascism, who felt that to change one’s religion was to change one’s nationality. The principle reason behind enacting such communal legislations is to keep a tap on the demographic growth of minorities in India and to ensure the numerical predominance of the Hindu faith. Such legislations have not only been passed in the right wing BJP ruled states of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh but have also managed to gain legitimacy in the Congress ruled hill-state of Himachal Pradesh.

Anti-conversion legislations make it mandatory for a person who is planning to convert to inform the government authorities one month in advance regarding the conversion. He also has to mention the name of the priest who would be carrying out the religious acts as also the venue and date of the conversion. If the person fails to do so prior to converting then he would be liable to either imprisonment or a hefty fine or both. What is worse is that the government authorities also have the power to reject applications. However, the most sinister part of the plot can be seen in the anti-conversion legislation passed by the Chhattisgarh Assembly which states, “returning to one’s forefather’s religion or his original religion will not be treated as conversion”. Unlike the latter part of the statement pertaining to ‘original religion’, the former part of the statement isn’t religiously neutral. All persons of Indian origin whether they are Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians or Parsis have Hindu ancestry. As per this law, all conversions to Hinduism shall not be regarded as conversions since the person already has a Hindu ancestry. What this law has done is that it has made it very easy to convert to Hinduism by not even treating it as a conversion and on the other hand, it has created governmental roadblocks in converting to a faith other than Hinduism.

Representational Image (NDTV)

Representational Image (NDTV)

Such policies of the secular state of India are very much in line with the Islamist regimes in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan where conversions to any other faith besides Islam are prohibited. In fact, the law of apostasy in several countries prescribes death for those who renounce Islam publicly. Conversions have been a controversial subject in India but there appears to be a tacit understanding between India’s right wing Bhartiya Janata Party and ruling Congress Party regarding this subject. It was the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh in 1955 which appointed the Niyogi Commission to study the activities of Christian Missionaries in India. The report which was formulated held a view similar to that of the Hindu nationalists in regards to missionary activities.

The supporters of anti-conversion legislations argue that such laws are necessary to put an end to forced conversions happening in different parts of India. They accuse missionaries of taking funds from foreign countries to annihilate the indigenous culture of India. The Christian missionaries in India have largely denied such allegations and have labelled attempts of curbing conversions as an assault on religious autonomy. The much cherished freedom of religion is central to the existence of a democratic society. The hypocritical politics of the Congress coupled with the confrontational style of the BJP is a matter of deep concern for India’s secularists whose apolitical activism is the only way to preserve real secularism in the nation.