December 21, 2014

Parliament impasse: Modi Govt Obduracy

THE current impasse in the parliament, with the Rajya Sabha not functioning for the third consecutive day, as we go to the press, is, once again, primarily due to the obduracy of this Modi government in not giving the House even a modicum of assurance on contentious issues. Two contentious issues have become intertwined – one is the issue of mass reconversions of people belonging to religious minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians, into Hinduism by the RSS/BJP and its various tentacles across the country; the other is on the attempts by this government to observe the globally celebrated Christmas as a day to observe “good governance” in schools and other educational institutions, commemorating the birthday of Atal Behari Vajpayee. This latter attempt by the Modi government reflects the perennial obsession of the RSS/BJP in seeing India alive only in a hyphenated existence with Pakistan – Indo-Pak. Pakistan has a holiday on December 25 primarily as the birthday of Mohammed Ali Jinnah. In our neighbouring country, December 25 as Christmas is only secondary. Earlier the Vajpayee government through Pokhran-II gave Pakistan the opportunity to be elevated in its military status with India as a nuclear power. The Modi government this time is attempting a similar equality with regards to December 25. Indeed, the first time was a tragedy and this second time is turning into a farce! The electoral campaign which boasts of a “56 inch” Modi government is turning out to reduce ourselves into an hyphenated existence with Pakistan. Let us take the second issue. When media reports were raised in the Rajya Sabha regarding the union ministry’s directions to schools to observe December 25 as “good governance” day and not as a Christmas holiday, the union finance minister first challenged the veracity of such reports. When shown to be otherwise, the government retracted to say that this was confined only to Navodaya Vidyalayas and since these are residential schools, there is no denial of a holiday for the students! (winter vacations?!) When confronted with a written letter from the union government to the All India Council of Technical Education that all technical institutions in the country should observe this day with students participating in various competitions, the government had no answer. The parliament is yet to be conclusively shown that this Modi government is not surreptitiously smuggling in anti-religious minorities agenda through such maneuvers. As far as religious re-conversions or ghar vapasi is concerned, the government, once again, is unable to satisfy the parliament or the country that it has no dubious motives. All that the opposition was asking was for the prime minister to come to the House and give the assurance that he would take action against all those found guilty of such diabolical exercises which are openly violative of our constitutional guarantees. The union finance minister, instead, challenged the opposition by asking if they were prepared to accept a new law banning religious conversions or forcible re-conversions. When it was pointed out that there is no need for any new legislation on this score as the Indian Constitution and the Indian Penal Code already ensured this, there was, once again, no answer. What the Modi government is seeking in the name of a new legislation is naked efforts at sharpening communal polarisation through campaigns against religious minorities in the country. The protection such a new Bill is supposed to provide is already reflected in our constitution (Articles 25 & 26) that provide “Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion” and “Freedom to manage religious affairs”. Further, the Indian Penal Code (Section 153 A) classifies forcible attempts in the name of religion as a criminal offence. Hence, there is no need for any new law for religious conversions that the Modi government today speaks of. Every Indian “irrespective of caste, creed or sex” has the freedom to choose his/her religious faith. Any forcible attempt to infringe upon this right is a “crime” punishable under law. The job of the government and the authorities is to implement the constitutional guarantees and punish those who violate our Penal Code. Instead, what the RSS/BJP and its tentacles are attempting to do today is to organise across the nation campaigns to sharpen communal polarisation through such re-conversion, ghar vapasi campaigns. The media reports regarding the so-called re-conversion of 57 Muslim families by an RSS affiliated outfit Dharam Jagran Samiti in Uttar Pradesh is revealing. “These 57 Muslim families, most of them Bengali-speaking, lived at the Madhunagar slum in Agra. As is the case with many slum-dwellers in the country, they had no form of official identification. According to one of them, the Dharmjagran cadres invited them to an event, promising that they would make their BPL cards, Aadhaar cards and voter ID cards. They were asked to wear skull caps, which deflates the claim that the Muslims knew what function they were attending. If the version provided by the Muslim families is correct, this is a case of religious conversion by fraudulent means, which is an offence.” (web portal, dailyo, December 10, 2014) Further, media reports also reveal that various RSS tentacles have been collecting `bounty’ for such `re-conversion’ campaigns: “the ‘bounty’ involved in converting a Muslim is Rs 5 lakh while in the case of a Christian its Rs 2 lakh. The price differential is presumably based on the premise that Christians are a much smaller minority than Muslims, and so pose less ‘samasya’ (problem) to the body politic than do followers of Islam. Even as its protégé, the BJP, has initiated a country-wide drive to recruit members and overtake the Chinese Communist Party as the world’s largest political association, the RSS has set a target of annually converting one lakh each of Muslims and Christians to Hinduism. “That individual proselytisation, let alone mass conversion, has no place in the live-and-let-live ethos of the Hindu faith is blithely ignored by these saffron crusaders, who have mounted a concerted campaign to ‘semitise’ Hinduism and turn it into a religious ideology based, in the manner of Islam and Christianity, on the concept of ‘One book, one congregation, one people’.” (Economic Times blogs, December 13, 2014) It is the government’s responsibility to establish the veracity or otherwise of such media reports. This is essential in order to assuage the rising fears amongst religious minorities, the essential pre-requisite for maintaining social harmony so vital for our country’s existence and prosperity. Those who violate both the constitutional guarantees and the Indian Penal Code must be punished for their crimes. This is all that is being asked of the prime minister to be given as an assurance in the parliament. The ruling Modi government ministers accused the Left parties that the insistence on the prime minister and prime minister alone giving such an assurance is the blatant excuse for disrupting parliamentary proceedings. On the contrary, on the earlier occasion, when a minister of state in the union cabinet made completely unacceptable and obnoxious insinuations against the BJP’s opponents, the prime minister indeed gave an assurance that such happenings will not repeat. But then, what is the result? The BJP ministers and MPs continue with unrestricted abandon to indulge in such violations of our constitution and activities that are punishable offences. That is why the prime minister is now being asked to not merely give assurances but promise action this time around. Hidden behind the mask of all such developments is the furious unfolding of this Modi government’s `lethal cocktail’ - selling grandiose illusions of “prosperity” through “development” while unleashing rabid communal polarisation. The balloons of development released with great fanfare, however, are punctured by the ground reality of a falling GDP; negative industrial and manufacturing growth; agrarian distress resulting in declining cultivated land and the RBI Governor’s prognosis that no economic turn around would be possible without expanding the purchasing power of our own people – our domestic demand (as argued in these columns in the past). Inversely proportional to the deteriorating livelihood conditions of our people is the exponential growth of frenzied communal polarisation, expressing itself in a myriad forms attempting to divert growing people’s discontent – the current campaigns of religious conversion and declaring Christmas as the day of “good governance”. This later is targeting the Christian minority in the run-up to the Jharkhand elections, like `love jihad’ was used against Muslims in Uttar Pradesh – the worst form of `vote bank politics’. It is this diabolic agenda that has to be defeated in order to strengthen the people’s struggles for a better livelihood and, on that basis, for the creation of a better India. (December 17, 2014)