'Ghar Vapsi': After love jihad, UP in conversion storm

It is now the turn of conversion to rock Uttar Pradesh after love jihad, which sparked off controversy during the Lok Sabha elections.

It all started with a relatively low key, at least initially, function organised by a few saffron outfits in the Taj city of Agra a few days ago in which around 250 members of over 50 families, suspected to be illegal Bangladeshi Muslim migrants and junk dealers, allegedly underwent mass conversion. The programme, however, hogged the media limelight the very next day after some of the converts alleged that they had been lured with promises of residential plots and ration cards if they converted.

“We were told that we will be given BPL ration cards and money... we were also promised residential plots,” claimed one of the converts. Some other converts also alleged that they had been asked to take part in some rituals. They said that they did not protest as they feared reprisals and silently did whatever was told to them.

Many of the converts, who had been shown with tilak on their forehead at the mass conversion programme, were seen offering namaz the very next day.

Although the police promptly lodged an FIR naming the main organiser Nad Kishore Valmiki as the prime accused, the representatives of the saffron organisations announced  that they would hold a similar mass conversion programme at Aligarh this month in which over two thousand people, who had converted, would return home.

The issue of conversion triggered a huge controversy and brought the saffron and Muslim outfits face to face. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), an apex body of the Muslims in the country, alleged that the Muslims were being lured with incentives to convert and demanded a law to ban conversions.

Prestigious islamic seminary Darul Uloom at Deoband in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur district and some other Muslim outfits have decided to activate their anti-conversion wing to prevent mass conversion as well as conversion by allurements and coercion.

Darul Uloom officials said he institution would take “all possible constitutional and legal measures” to ensure that illegal and forced conversions did not take place. The seminary also demanded a law to ban such conversions.

Muslim outfits would also rope in the services of the leading clerics in their efforts to stop conversions. The Muslim leaders have urged UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav to take cognisance of the saffron outfit’s announcements and ensure stern action against them so that the communal atmosphere in the state was not vitiated. The saffron outfits, a few BJP MPs and some Union ministers, however, refused to call it conversion.

“It is basically ghar vapasi (home coming),” said firebrand BJP MP Mahant Adityanath. Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), one of the saffron outfits, which has been on the forefront on this
issue, went on to declare that a majority of Muslims in the country were in reality converts.

Saffron leaders said that conversion has been going in the country for the past 50 years. “Way back in 1966, a resolution calling for homecoming of the converted Hindus had been adopted at the Kumbha (a religious gathering) at Allahabad,” said a senior VHP leader. The saffron outfits plan to intensify their campaign to encourage conversion in the state and appear undeterred by the stern warning issued by the state government.

“The teams of the saffron organisations will tour the length and breadth of the state and will look for the people, who wanted to convert to Hinduism… they will be told that they were originally Hindus and their ancestors had converted under coercion,” said a senior saffron leader here. Mahant Adityanath’s organisation, Hindu Yuva Vahini, which has been active in the districts of eastern UP for the past few years and holding mass conversion programmes has also declared that it will hold similar programmes at Gorakhpur and Ghazipur districts in the days to come.

Polarising voters

The issue threatens to turn into a major controversy ahead of the next assembly polls in the state in early 2017. Political observers feel that it could become a major poll plank as well and could end up polarising the voters along communal lines. “The issue has taken a communal turn and could influence the polls’’, said Prof Dinesh Kumar, a former faculty at University of Lucknow.

Muslim outfits want the state government to act quickly and strongly. The government has warned that any attempt to disturb communal amity would be dealt with sternly. “We are keeping a strict watch on the developments... we will, under no circumstances, allow any programme that may adversely communal amity,” said a home department official here.

Samajwadi Party leaders said that the BJP wanted to vitiate the communal atmosphere of the state to gain political mileage. “It is nothing but a tactic to divide the society along communal lines,” said SP leader Rajendra Chaudhary.

The saffron outfits seem to be defiant and are preparing for a prolonged battle on the issue. The BJP, however, has decided to steer clear of the controversy though in a clever political strategy, it has not so far asked its MPs and MLAs or office bearers to refrain from taking part in such programmes.

“We have nothing to do with the programmes... they may have been organised by the MPs or other leaders in their individual capacity,” said the UP BJP chief Luxmi Kant Bajpai.
With the saffron leaders planning to expedite their ghar vapasi campaign in the state in the days to come, the issue, it seems, will dominate the state’s politics at least in the near future.

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