The most significant aspect to emerge from the ongoing controversy over mass religious conversions in Uttar Pradesh has gone unnoticed. Addressing the House on the issue Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mr. Venkayiah Naidu condemned conversions through force, coercion or inducement and suggested promulgating a new Anti-Conversion law both at the central as well as the state levels. Mr. Naidu quoted Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel and other iconic stalwarts of the past who all condemned religious conversions. Congress leader Mr. Digvijay Singh pointed out that the fundamental right to choose one’s religion cannot be questioned. Clearly if such a law is enacted care will have to be taken to ensure that provisions are made to check inducement and coercion for effecting religious conversions.
Mr. Naidu in his speech strongly defended the RSS and blamed the opposition for maligning his parent organization. However the most intriguing aspect of his speech was related not to what he said but to what he did not say. Mr. Naidu’s emphatic condemnation of religious conversions and his reiteration about Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi’s unflinching commitment to pluralism and communal harmony did not quite square with his silence and refusal to condemn the hate speeches being spread by a number of his own party colleagues. Indeed it is puzzling why Mr. Modi himself has been conspicuously silent about the provocative speeches being made by several BJP leaders. There can be only one explanation for this silence. The hate speeches are sanctioned and encouraged by the RSS and Mr. Modi cannot confront it.
The possibility cannot be ruled out that there are no personal differences between Mr. Modi and RSS Chief Mr. Mohan Bhagwat. In the pursuit of electoral strategy Mr. Modi may be colluding with Mr. Bhagwat for polarizing communities in order to consolidate the Hindu vote bank. If this is so, Mr. Modi is making a grievous miscalculation The Prime Minister’s agenda for development and modernizing India is incompatible with the obscurantist and divisive hate politics being indulged in by several BJP leaders. Other aspects apart, hate politics will be unacceptable to India’s rising young generation aspiring for a modern 21st century nation. The cultural fallout of hate politics could conceivably even affect adversely the inflow of foreign investment.
Therefore if Mr. Modi is serious about his professed development agenda he must immediately and unequivocally curb his party colleagues spreading communal divisiveness. If the Prime Minister is concerned about garnering votes for elections he cannot take a short cut by encouraging communal polarization. He should draw a lesson from his experience in Kashmir which should teach him that with understanding and patience everybody is open to persuasion. If curbing communal rants leads to confrontation with the RSS Mr. Modi must make a choice. Does he want continued obedience to RSS or his development agenda?