Modi’s Many Challenges

Saffron ideology is a calamity born of a calamity. Sporadic attacks on churches in recent weeks, particularly in Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states seem to be a calculated move to keep the saffron agenda alive without really officially identifying it with BJP—the ruling party at the Centre. There is no Chinese Wall between pluralism as practised by Modi and religious intolerance coupled with violence and hatred unleashed by his foot-soldiers under different banners. What they stand for is the rejection of all humane self-development and freedom. Recently Christians held special prayers and massive rallies at least in 100 places across the country for three days demanding an end to the attacks on Churches and ‘‘hate campaign’’ against the community. Right now Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra continually hit the headlines for vandalising churches and church-run schools while West Bengal too witnessed a gruesome incident of rape and arson in a church-run school in a district town—Ranaghat. Perhaps it is beyond the perception of saffron ideologues that violence and hate-campaign will grow the Church, defeating their very purpose of creating anti-Church public opinion. What is true of India is equally true for a global scenario, especially in the Middle East. ‘‘The Church has became once again a Church of martyrs’’. Thus observed the Pope Francis the other day. And in India attack on Christian establishments unites the church like nothing else. ‘The blood of the martyrs has always and will always bring renewal for reasons both prosaic and profound’. If the statement is valid for the religious activists, it is equally valid for political crusaders as well. The recent attacks on Churches are part of the chain of events that started with the burning of a father and his family in Odisha a few years back by the notorious Bajrang Dal, a cultural frontal outfit of BJP. And now they call it Dharam Sena. It is always possible to float a mass organisation under any name with the changed political context and do nefarious activities as the jihadists quite often do in Pakistan.

Against the backdrop of violence against Church Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh raised the issue of anti-conversion law which the opposition parties, including left parties, refuse to talk about in public. Without officially endorsing ‘Ghar Wapsi’ (i.e. re-conversion), he asked his political adversaries a pointed question : ‘why should there be any conversion at all?’ Pledging full protection to minorities, Mr Singh questioned the very practice of conversions and advocated a debate on the need for an anti-conversion law. Strangely, orthodox religious practitioners from the Church and Mosque, have been silent over the issue of anti-conversion law. Mohan Bhagwat was not the only person to accuse Mother Teresa of conversion-linked pro-poor social service. Tariq Ali and his friend Hitchens in their documentary, made the same allegation. It’s easy to pose oneself as secular and tolerant, simply by criticising the saffron family and their misdeeds. But it is not that easy and comfortable to face the challenge thrown by the Singhs in respect of conversion. In truth the opposition is on the defensive when it is the question of anti-conversion law. For one thing by attacking the Church and Church-run establishments the saffron fundamentalists are in reality trying to popularise the idea of anti-conversion law among masses across the country. The hard fact is that the oldest Church in the world is in India—it is in Kerala. The point at issue is why someone cannot serve the people without resorting to conversion. In otherwords service to the poor is conditional. The left has no answer. Nor do they want to look back into history.

What is happening in India today is stranger than fiction—a right-wing rule with a broad social acceptability. It is the absence of the humane and humanising content, the absence of a vision of a progressive world, a more equitable world and just society, that makes the all-pervasive saffron organising the horror that it is.

The so-called secular forces, not excluding left forces, preferring status quo, have little solid ground to oppose saffron offensive on the ideological plane. But the saffron ideologues too have their limits. What finally matters in their ‘putch’ and ‘retreat’ is vote, rather minority vote. So addressing the 10th annual conference of the State Minority Commissions, Union Minister of State for minority affairs Muktar Abbas Naqvi was somewhat eloquent as he saw ‘a positive environment among the minorities after the formation of the Narendra Modi government’, notwithstanding recurring communal riots here and there. He went a step further by certifying the Modi Government that arrest of innocent Muslims youths in connection with terror and other anti-national activities had stopped since the NDA government took charge at the centre. But the findings of the dozens of civil liberties bodies, both national and international, speak, and almost in unison, otherwise. Despite sweet words from Singh, Naqvi and the like, the minorities continue to feel insecure though government functionaries and politicians never get tired to repeat the oft-repeated rhetoric that India is a country which respects all religions and believes in peaceful existence. Justice to the minorities, rather to the poor, in the ultimate analysis is neither a mere constitutional obligation nor an area that belongs to religious ethics.

Vol. 47, No. 39, Apr 5 - 11, 2015