Communal cauldron

Deliberate attempts: Is the Narendra Modi government looking the other way or is it helpless?

Communal cauldron
Last week, Anil Jatav, a 48-year-old dalit, had invited some missionaries to conduct special prayers for his ailing mother at his home in Agra. A few persons, claiming to be members of the Bajrang Dal, barged in and manhandled some of the missionaries, charging that the prayer was a ruse to convert the Jatav family to Christianity.

Incidents like this may seem less heinous compared to attacks on churches in Delhi and other parts of the country and the rape of a 71-year-old nun in West Bengal. However, for those terrified by these incidents, there is a distinct pattern: intimidation, coercion and violation of their religious freedom.

They see the hand of the votaries of “Hindutva” behind the incidents, which are driven by an agenda to keep the polity divided on majority-minority lines.

These right-wing proponents are emboldened because of the huge mandate won by Narendra Modi in 2014, which would not have been possible without the role played by the BJP’s ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Therefore, those sitting in the government today have their hands tied as they are indebted to these rightwing groups, they say.

With the next rounds of elections, starting with Bihar in November, followed by Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala in April next year and Uttar Pradesh in 2017, there could be no let-up in such incidents-- if there is a definite political strategy to keep voters polarised, argue opponents of the BJP.

They say these groups are employing such tactics as “ghar wapsi (home coming of those they who previously converted to other religions)”, forcing a ban on slaughter of cows and bulls, enforcing compulsory teaching of yoga and surya namaskar and calling for a national law to stop religious conversion.

Christian and Muslim leaders say Modi may be acutely embarrassed by the media attention that these incidents draw. But, the BJP and its government are not doing much to stop them because, after all, there is a political dividend at the end.

Some others argue that the BJP may not be actually behind the acts of violence but is “helpless” to rein in some of the fringe elements, all of whom may not necessarily hold their allegiance to the RSS. “My government has only one religion - India first,” said Modi on February 27, assuring Parliament of his commitment to religious equality and tolerance.
“Nobody has the right to discriminate on the basis of religion. My government has only this ideology – India and the Constitution – above all else,” he said, amid concerns and criticism that religious minorities are being targeted by Hindu extremists.

His reassurance came though after a long silence over attacks on churches. Also, this was not before US President Barack Obama, during his visit to Delhi in January, had stated that India's success depends on its not splintering along religious lines. Back in America, he also said Mahatma Gandhi would be astounded by recent acts of religious intolerance in India. That prompted senior ministers like Arun Jaitley to declare that India “has a huge cultural history of tolerance; any aberrations do not alter that history.”

Senior BJP leaders did make it a point to strongly tell the RSS brass that the Hindutva talk and attacks damage the government’s image and credibility internationally, providing ammunition to the opposition when it would like to focus on governance and economic revival. Also, Modi could not for ever be silent when his agenda is hijacked by headline-grabbing mischief makers. Subsequently, at an event organised by Christian leaders in Delhi, Modi had to say, “No religious group can incite violence... my government will ensure there is complete freedom of faith.”

Displaying seriousness on this matter, he even summoned Delhi Police Commissioner B S Bassi after attack and theft at the Holy Child Auxilium School of south Delhi. Modi also spoke over telephone to Union Home Secretary LC Goyal and asked him to “pay special attention” to the rising incidents of crime and vandalism.

But, when asked to explain the recent spate of thefts and attacks on churches in the Capital, Bassi had a different tale. He told the home ministry that more thefts were reported from temples, gurdwaras and mosques. He even presented the data at a meeting with the ministry officials. According to the data, 206 temples, 30 gurdwaras, 14 mosques and only three churches were burgled in 2014. The hue and cry was more political and the mischief mongers will have a field day as all 220 churches in Delhi region cannot be secured.

However, Bassi was told by the home secretary that in the wake of the recent cases, there was a perception that a particular community was being targeted. In a newspaper article, Julio Ribeiro, a popular former DGP of Gujarat and Punjab and former Mumbai Police Commissioner, wrote an op-ed with the headline “I feel I am on a hit list” that strengthened the narrative that Modi’s ascent to power has coincided with a “systematic targeting” of the Christian community.

Even as Ribeiro did not deny his writing was “slightly exaggerated” to bring attention to the Centre’s inability to stop attacks on minorities, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari could not help articulating what many BJP ministers have long felt. “Riberio is an icon. I told the PM that I felt sad reading his piece. We won’t protect those damaging a minority institution…the Left and the Congress have created this perception about us,” he said.

But the bigger question is whether the Modi government started it all? It earmarked December 25 – same day as Christmas as Good Governance Day and the birthday of former prime minister A B Vajpayee happens on that day. Did RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s frequent statements upon what ‘Hindu rashtra’ means or to criticise Mother Teresa were a “systematic attack” on other religions?

Even as he vowed to protect the minorities, did Home Minister Rajnath Singh stoke fresh fears by his assertion that if there’s a problem with ‘ghar wapsi’, there must also be a problem with conversion to Christianity?

Post-script: West Bengal CID arrested two persons, both Bangladeshi nationals, in connection with the nun rape case.  The Navi Mumbai police held four men including a gambling den owner for attacking a church in New Panvel because it complained against their activity near it.

Ever since the BJP-led government occupied power at the Centre, communal incidents aimed at minority communities or decisions by BJP governments in several states that may put question mark on the country’s secular nature are on the increase. There was a long silence by Modi before he spoke out against these incidents. But it had little impact on the ground as incidents continue and almost no effort done to apprehend the culprits. Who is behind all these? Do Sangh Parivar outfits feel they have a licence to run amock?

Incidents which created controversy

Ghar Vapsi or reconversion to Hinduism
Campaign on love jihad
Attacks on churches in Delhi, Navi Mumbai, Jabalpur (MP)
Ban on beef in Maharashtra, Haryana
Introduction of Bhagavat Gita in

Introduction of Surya Namaskar, yoga in schools
Appointment of Sangh–linked people in institutions like ICHR, NBT
Controversy over Gandhi
Jayanthi holiday in Goa
Campaigns on Valentine’s Day

Ghar Wapsi

Controversial reconversion campaign by organisations like VHP. Hit headlines after a ‘ghar wapsi’ event in Agra where 250 Muslims were reconverted. They were brought to the function on the pretext that they would get ration card and basic amenities under a development programme of Modi government if they attend a havan. Several events were held in some states, including Kerala.

Love Jihad

Term first used in Kerala and Karnataka by Sangh-affiliated outfits on Muslim boys marrying Hindu girls. Activists claim it is a myth created by Sangh to suggest that Muslim organisations are funding youth to lure non-Muslim girls to marriage and increase their population.

Attacks on churches

Several incidents of attacks on churches in states where BJP is the ruling party. Authorities say it is not a communal problem but law and order problems. The latest being in Navi Mumbai and Jabalpur where some people have been arrested.

Beef Ban

The law passed to ban beef in Maharashtra and Haryana has evoked protest. Protestors say government imposing food habits on them. Some also argue that Hindu scriptures do not advocate ban on beef.

Bhagavad Gita, Vande Mataram,
Surya Namaskar, Yoga in schools

Efforts by BJP-ruled governments create trouble. Haryana announces plan to introduce Gita in curriculum. Rajasthan ad Madhya Pradesh governments make ‘Surya Namaskar’ compulsory in schools. There are demands for making Vande Mataram and yoga in schools.  

Appointment of RSS–linked people

Reconstitution of Indian Council of Historical Research with Sangh-affiliated people, who do not have academic excellence triggered controversy. Sudharshan Rao was appointed Chairman ICHR. Appointment of new Chairman of National Book Trust after asking well-known Malayalam writer Sethu to step down six months before his tenure. Controversy over Amartya Sen’s continuance as Nalanda University Chancellor.

Communal Incidents in India

Year    Incidents    Killed     Injured
2012    668    94    2117
2013    823    133    2269
2014    644    95    1921
2015 (till Jan)    72    11    218

Communal Incidents in States

State    2012    2013    2014    2015*
Uttar Pradesh    118    247    133    8
Maharashtra    94    88    97    21
Madhya Pradesh     92    84    56    5
Karnataka    69    73    73    10
Gujarat    57    68    74    5
Bihar    21    63    61    12
TOTAL (Across India)    668    823    644    72
 (*till Jan)

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