Mumbai, February 16, 2013: The CSF and community groups have condemned the vandalisation of a statue of Our Our Lady of Valankanni at Nikamwadi in Dadar West, Mumbai. It seems to be an attempt to disturb the communal peace in the area and Catholics have therefore urged to maintain restraint. It is indeed surprising that the police have assumed that it was a case of attempt to rob and as a result, the statute fell down, as mentioned in the police report. One can expect more provocation of such kind in the run-up to the elections due next year. There seems to be a pattern to the madness, which could be to polarize the voters on majority-minority lines, making Christians the soft target.
According to the groups (MCYF, AOCC, CPF, etc.), if the police do not bring to book the culprits, who desecrated the statue, it will be a signal to fundamentalist forces that they could target the community with impunity. Joseph Dias said that the CSF would approach the home minister to increase police protection and surveillance around religious places.
According to Joseph Dias, “ what is even more shocking is that the vandalization occurred near the Anusaya co-operative housing society, which reportedly has only two Catholic families residing there. The police have filed a case under sections 379, 511, 295 and 427 of the IPC for offenses relating to hurting religious sentiments. The CSF also put out a hotline for community members to alert the NGO for preventing and dealing with such communal emergencies. The statue was handed over to the Our Lady of Salvation (Portuguese) Church authorities and we would keep you informed of developments in the case.
- the csf
India, South and East Asia, September 24, 2012: An Indian state’s draconian “anti-conversion” law has been partially struck down in a legal challenge brought by Christians and celebrated as “a triumph for religious freedom” in the country.
The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) took its case against the Himachal Pradesh Religion Act 2006 to the state’s high court, which ruled on 30 August that some provisions of the law were unconstitutional.
The court removed a section that required a person intending to convert from one religion to another to give 30 days’ notice to the district magistrate. Failure to do this was punishable with a fine.
Two rules regarding the implementation of the act were also struck down. One required the district magistrate to give notice of the conversion request to any affected party before granting approval, and the other required a police case to be registered if the conversion was thought to have taken place using force or inducement or without notice.
The EFI challenged the law because of the ways in which it was being used, especially by Hindu extremists, to stop people from converting to Christianity.
Those wanting to convert were listed in a public registry, which was checked by Hindu extremists, who then tracked down, persecuted, and even murdered new Christians. People wanting to become Hindus did not, however, need to give public notice.
Christians involved in evangelism have also faced false accusations of forcibly converting Hindus, for which they have been beaten and arrested.
Justices Deepak Gupta and Rajiv Sharma ruled that the state had no role to play if anyone converted to a different faith of their own will. The bench said:
Citizens not only have the rights of conscience and belief, and the freedom to change this belief, but also they have the right to keep their beliefs secret.
The World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission welcomed the verdict as “a triumph for religious freedom in India”.
The case will now go to the Indian Supreme Court where it is expected that extremist Hindu groups will exert pressure for the decision to be overturned.
Arguing in defense of the Religion Act, Subramanian Swami said that conversions are against Hindu philosophy and should not be permitted.
The EFI’s victory in this case is a step in the right direction for religious freedom in India, but there is still a long way to go. The rest of the Religion Act in Himachal Pradesh was upheld, and there are similar laws governing religious practice in other India states. These restrict the freedom of non-Hindus to share their faith.
- barnabas team
Himachal Pradesh, September 16, 2012: Although universal in nature, religious liberty is not universal in practice the world over. And a law designed to prevent conversions to Christianity in India is exhibit A for the truth that, in some countries, religion is but one more aspect of life controlled by government or ruthless factions that fear no government.
And this is why legal victories restoring or broadening religious liberty are so important, particularly when those victories unburden a people who theretofore had been required to alert local magistrates before changing religions. In Evangelical Fellowship of India v/s State of Himachal Pradesh, the High Court of the State of Himachal Pradesh ruled against just such a law.
The law required those intending to change religions to provide a district magistrate with “prior notice of at least 30 days … of his intention to do so.” Failure to provide advance notice of conversion required a mandatory police investigation,
prosecution, and sanctions. And if notifying the local government magistrate of one’s new religion wasn’t invasive enough – all persons desiring to change their religion were listed in a public registry, scanned regularly by fundamentalist Hindu extremists that make it a daily routine to retaliate against, persecute, and even murder new Christian converts. And, of course, the public notice law did not apply to anyone changing their religion to Hinduism.
There is a mighty struggle occurring in India in which 300 million Dalits (formerly called “untouchables”) are suffering at the bottom rung on the Hindu caste system, enduring punishment in this life for what some Hindu faithful describe as sins committed in past lives. And millions are desperate to escape by seeking refuge in the Christian faith where all are created in God’s image and equal in the eyes of God.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys and allies represented Evangelical Fellowship of India are challenging the law because it was being used as a cudgel to stop – through intimidation and fear – a potential flood of conversions to Christianity.
Moreover, as all laws have symbolic importance, representing a society’s dividing line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, the law and its operation communicated that conversion from Hinduism to Christianity was disapproved.
The law clearly violated the Indian constitution, which purports to guarantee freedom of religion, and served as a license for misconduct against new Christians whose names appeared on the public registry. So it shouldn’t pass unnoticed that Christians in India and especially Christian clergy are attacked, harassed, and beaten every single day. In fact, over 100 Christian Dalits were murdered just three short years ago in the state of Orissa by fundamentalist Hindu mobs that ran amuck for months with little or no government intervention.
The victory of Evangelical Fellowship of India was one step in a long and on-going struggle to win genuine religious freedom in India. The case will now go to the Indian Supreme Court where extreme pressure will be brought to bear by extremist Hindu organizations, doing everything in their power, to curtail the lowest Hindu caste from fleeing a life of religiously sanctioned poverty and degradation.
Every victory like this swings the pendulum closer to where all civilized people should want to be – a place where religious liberty is not only universal in nature, but in practice as well.
“First they ignore you …
then they laugh at you …
then they fight you …
and then you win”.
Mumbai, September 13, 2012: This quote of Mahatma Gandhi is the favourite quotation of Aseem Trivedi, 25, the cartoonist who has become a celebrity hero overnight following his recent arrest, if one goes through his profile on Facebook. This quote can be certainly attributed to him, as Trivedi has won hands down and must be having the last laugh having become a national hero, courtesy overreaction by the government sending him to jail on charges of sedition for uploading derogatory cartoons on his web portal.
Naturally, one is tempted to ask why the government acted so imprudently making a hero out of someone like Trivedi especially at a time when the issue of freedom of speech and reasonable restriction is going on in the Supreme Court. The votaries of freedom of free speech and expression have charged the government of resorting to witch-hunt to browbeat crusaders of corruption and sought his unconditional release. Needless to say Trivedi has walked out of Arthur Road Jail of Mumbai to a hero’s welcome, his head held high. Apparently, the government developed cold feet – following public outcry, condemnation by media & other political parties and by the strong stand taken by Trivedi himself – and released him.
Trivedi, an activist of India against Corruption (IAC) who was picked up by Mumbai Police last Saturday following a non-bailable warrant against him for sedition, was freed from jail on 12th September, but not before raising many unpalatable questions, including a debate on the call for repeal of IPC 124A relating to sedition and the motive of the government.
Mumbai police had arrested Trivedi last weekend after a city lawyer, who is said to be a member of Republic Party of India (also a law student), had filed a complaint in December 2011 and charged him with sedition for insulting national emblems and the constitution during the anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare. The complainant had made a specific mention about Trivedi’s cartoon depicting the national emblem with three wolves instead of lions and the words Bhrashtameva Jayate (corruption only triumphs) in place of Satyameva Jayate. One of his cartoons shows parliament building as a lavatory buzzing with flies.
Since a complaint was filed, the government could have filed a charge sheet and left the matter for the court to decide, instead of arresting and jailing him – a move which has severely backfired on the government. Though the constitution ensures freedom of speech and expression it has certainly laid down that every citizen must respect the national symbols. In the case of Trivedi it should have been left to the court to decide whether he insulted national symbols or not.
Following Trivedi’s arrest there is every reason to believe that the scandal-hit government was trying to muzzle the voices of anti-corruption activists involved in the crusade against corruption spearheaded by Anna Hazare. It also shows that the government has become intolerant towards criticism, which is an essential part of parliamentary democracy. It may be recalled here that Trivedi was closely involved with Anna Hazare’s crusade against corruption wherein many of his cartoons were displayed during the protests.
To make matters worse for the government Aseem Trivedi turned out to be a tough nut to crack. If the television images of a tousle-haired, bearded and slogan shouting Trivedi were an epitome of courage and conviction even as he was bundled into the patrol car, his intransigent and no-nonsense attitude to refuse the services of a lawyer and not to seek bail endeared him to those who thought him as a new youth icon who made the government bend backwards. In fact Aseem Trivedi was granted bail following a PIL filed by a lawyer and he agreed to come out of the jail only after Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil assured him that sedition charges against him would be reviewed.
Aseem Trivedi’s arrest and subsequent release raises many questions especially with regard to the political intolerance exhibited by our politicians whose scandals speak louder than their actions both inside and outside the parliament. Trivedi is the new face of our fight against corruption and he has shown that government intolerance has no place in our democracy. He has also shown that the government’s efforts to smother dissenting voices will not be taken lying down.
Though the issue of offensive cartoons that rocked the parliament a few months ago, forcing the NCERT to purge them can be viewed as a victory of intolerance, Trivedi’s gumption that forced the government to release him from jail can be seen as a victory for all those who value freedom of speech and expression as a fundamental right.
Though Trivedi was intensely involved in Anna Hazar’s crusade against corruption where cartoons were used during protests under the series “cartoons against corruption”, he remained a non-entity till now. Ironically it was his recent arrest that has catapulted him to national fame, signifying his involvement in the crusade against corruption.
Today, thanks to the government’s desperate bid to smother public opinion by way of arresting him, Trivedi, a not-so-known cartoonist has become a youth celebrity, a national hero, a symbol of free speech and a rallying point for all those who are leading a crusade against corruption. Just as his favourite quote says, Trivedi has won!
Tamil Nadu, September 17, 2012: The anti-nuke protesters brought water from the sea and cleaned the church in Idinthakarai village in Tamil Nadu that was desecrated by the police.
The protesters suspended their agitation against the Koodankulam nuclear power plant for a day on Saturday.
They had launched a water protest by jumping into the sea, just 500 metres away from the nuclear facility, and forming a human chain to protest fueling of uranium in one of the reactors of the plant.
The protesters claimed that the police entered the St. Lourdes Church in the village and desecrated the church and the statue of Mother Mary.
After the cleaning was completed, special adoration was conducted in the church,
The protesters refused to accept the body of A. Sahayaraj, who died Friday after sustaining head injury during the ‘jal satyagraha’ (non-violent water protest).
Even as the police filed a case of suspicious death, the protesters alleged that the victim, scared by an Indian Coast Guard aircraft flying at low-level, fell on a granite boulder and died.
They demanded registration of a murder case against the pilot.
“We’ll not accept the body till a murder case is registered against the pilot,” they said.
Mumbai, September 15, 2012: Ashok Singhal, historical leader of the extremist group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), is trying to garner he nationalism of the Indians ahead of the general election in 2014. President of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC): “An attempt to build hysteria, but the majority of Hindus do not believe them.”
Vote for a Hindu Nationalist government in the elections of 2014, and they will we rebuild Ayodhya. There are still two years to the elections for the new prime minister of India, but for the radical Hindu Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) the campaign has already (or almost) begun. The recent public statements of Ashok Singhal, longtime leader of the VHP show as much. He said: “Only a central government that is pro-Hindutva [ideology that theorizes the creation of a country inspired in all respects on the principles of Hinduism, ed] can pave the way for the construction of a temple in Ayodhya”.
Ayodhya in 1992 was the scene of one of the bloodiest attacks against the Muslim community of India. On 6 December of that year, about 150 thousand militants of the Hindu nationalist Sangh Parivar razed the ancient Babri Masjid mosque. The destruction of the place of worship was the culmination of a long campaign backed by Hindu radicals, which claimed ancient ownership to the land on which the Babri Masjid stood. The assault resulted in violent riots, which killed more than 2 thousand people, mostly Muslims. On 30 September 2010, the High Court of Allabad ruled that the area was to be divided into three parts among Hindus and Muslims litigants in an attempt to mitigate the long standing tensions surrounding the area.
Mumbai, September 12, 2012: The president of the Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) condemns the acts of vandalism committed by police in Idinthakarai which exploded after (peaceful) antinuclear protests in Kudankulam. Police agents destroyed two statues of the Madonna and have urinated on them.
The desecration of a church is a “vulgar, thoughtless and shameful” act “even more unacceptable” when carried out by law enforcement officers, says Card. Oswald Gracias, President of the Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI). The cardinal condemns the acts of vandalism committed by police officers in the church of Our Lady of Lourdes in the village of Idinthakarai (Tamil Nadu), in violence that erupted during the protests against the Kudankulam nuclear power plant.
Two days ago, a new peaceful demonstration to stop the construction of the plant turned into a nightmare for the local community. Police opened fire on the crowds to disperse them, killing a fisherman. A 6 year old girl lost her life, crushed by the fleeing crowd. Then, some agents raided Our Lady of Lourdes Church destroying two statues of the Virgin Mary, and urinating on them (see 11/09/2012, ” Police violence against antinuclear protesters: two dead and a church profaned “).
“The police – says Card. Gracias – has the duty to protect churches and places of worship, because all must be respected. Nothing can justify such an atrocious act. It is a mark on the secular credentials of India, which challenge our national conscience. ”
The local community – mostly Catholic and devoted to fishing – have been opposed to the construction of Kudankulam plant for several years. According to the people, it is not safe, and will have an impact on the environment dangerous for the lives and livelihoods of the inhabitants. For the authorities of Tamil Nadu, however, the system is safe and is the best way to make up for the energy shortage in the area. In addition, according to the government “hidden” foreign and Catholic NGOs are behind the protests, funding anti-nuclear activists. For this reason, last February the state froze the bank accounts of four NGOs, including the two headed by Msgr. Yvon Ambroise, Bishop of Tuticurin (epicenter of the protest, ed.)
The President of the CBCI points out: “The Catholic Church has always expressed solidarity with our brothers and sisters in need all over India. We reaffirm our commitment to ensure economic and social justice for our fellow citizens.” According to the cardinal, “true development safeguards the dignity of the human being. It is our duty to accept responsibility for each other, and the growth of India as a whole. At the same time, we must create conditions of justice and peace in which individuals and communities can truly flourish”.
Ahmedabad, September 11, 2012: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi Tuesday kicked off his Bharatiya Janata Party’s campaign for the assembly polls in December, challenging the Congress to battle it on the issue of development and not by using the CBI to target him.
Modi, who is serving his third term, started his campaign with a rally at the temple town of Bahucharaji in north Gujarat’s Mehsana district and later launched the first of a series of yatras that will take him to various parts of the state.
Addressing the rally, Modi said: “We need to awaken with our dreams and move forward. Gujarat wants peace, prosperity.”
Attacking the Congress, Modi said: “Leaders of the Congress party have declared that they will oppose me wherever I will go. This country is a democracy and it is election time. Have they lost patience that they can’t hear someone?”
In a thinly veiled threat, he added, “Do you want Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh to be opposed when they come to Gujarat (for campaigning)?”
“Why practice the politics of opposition? I have the right to express my thoughts, you (Congress) also have the right do so, my government can even provide you with all the help that you need for the same,” Modi said.
Modi also accused the Congress party of misusing constitutional bodies and alleged that the CBI was hand-in-glove with the Congress and was being used to target him.
“They have abused me, called me names. The Congress is not fighting alone in Gujarat, Congress will fight with the CBI, new SITs are set up to corner Modi. Come, let’s fight over development, I don’t want to fight over lies,” he added.
BJP national leaders Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh and many top functionaries of the Gujarat BJP were present on the occasion.
Modi’s yatra, the first of the campaign, officially called the ‘Vivekananda Yuva Vikas Yatra’ began on a day when spiritual leader Swami Vivekananda made his historic speech at the Chicago Conference of World Religions, 119 years ago in 1893. The yatra will cover all 182 assembly constituencies.
Bahucharaji has been chosen as the starting point of the yatra as Maruti will construct its new car plant near the temple town.
Modi’s yatra will travel through various places in north Gujarat, including Modhera, Chanhasma, Dhinoj, Jotana, Kadi and Thol. It will conclude at Sanand near Ahmedabad, where the Tata Nano plant is located.
He will use the same “rath” that veteran BJP leader L.K. Advani used for his anti-corruption ‘Jan Chetna Yatra’ in 2011.
The BJP has 121 members in the 182-member assembly and the Congress 55. The Nationalist Congress Party has three members and the Janata Dal-United two, while there are two independents.
India, Ferbruary 11, 2012: In a shift in strategy, the Sangh Parivar resorts to multiple offensives on the social and cultural fronts.
RSS volunteers ata three-day camp, Hindu Shakti Sangam, from January 27 to 29 at Tarihal near Hubli in north Karnataka.
THE design of the array of political, social and religious outfits in the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-led Sangh Parivar is such that they can jointly and severally advance their collective ideological and organisational objectives using diverse tactics and stratagems. Multi-speak is an important component of the strategies employed by the Hindutva combine. At times these organisations adopt seemingly contradictory views on a variety of issues.
Sometimes they even put their fundamentalist slogans on the back burner in the interest of political or organisational expediency. But, even while doing so, the Parivar affiliates take forward the various facets of the central ideological theme of Hindutva, particularly at the social and cultural levels.
This aspect of the right wing has once again come to the fore through a number of initiatives taken by a clutch of Hindutva organisations, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the political arm of the Sangh Parivar, and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), its self-professed ideological sword arm.
Central to this new focus on the social and cultural manoeuvres by the Hindutva combine is the passage of a number of amendments to strengthen the Madhya Pradesh Gauvansh Pratishedh Adhiniyam (Madhya Pradesh Bovine Prohibition Act, 2004). The amendments passed by the Shivraj Singh Chauhan-led BJP government have added a new dimension to the cow protection laws existing in many States. The amendments have clauses that make even the consumption of beef illegal. It also stipulates that a person found guilty of cow slaughter will be liable to face up to seven years of imprisonment instead of the earlier provision of three years.
This renewed aggressive pursuit of the long-standing Hindutva agenda of cow protection has assumed significance at various levels. The slogan has been a key component of the pan-Hindu identity politics that the proponents of Hindutva have sought to advance for over eight decades. Since its inception in 1925, the RSS has formed a widespread network of Gau Raksha Samitis (cow protection societies) that maintain gaushalas (cowsheds), particularly in north India. These societies have a history of instigating riots over the issue of cow protection. They had apparently played a divisive role even during the freedom struggle. At the political level, cow protection has been a key theme of the BJP since the 1950s when it went by the name of Jan Sangh. The slogans on this issue promoted a divisive agenda. One oft-repeated slogan of the cow protection societies is: “Cow is holy for Hindus, Muslims eat it to insult the Hindu faith.” The Chauhan government’s preparations for introducing the Gau-Vansh Vadh Pratishedh (Sanshodhan) Vidheyak, 2010 (Prohibition of Slaughter of Cow Progeny (Amendment) Bill), were apparently triggered by a massive signature campaign undertaken by the VHP through its Vishwa Mangala Gou Grama Yatra, which travelled through different parts of the country in early 2010.
It is also significant that the aggressive revival of the cow protection agenda comes at a time when the BJP has apparently put its core ideological agenda, consisting of the construction of a grand Ram temple in Ayodhya, abrogation of Article 370, and the imposition of a uniform civil code, on the back burner. The BJP has not launched any aggressive campaign on these three issues for more than half a decade, since the shock defeat it suffered in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. Clearly, political expediency has dictated this withdrawal because many of the BJP’s allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), such as the Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United), have expressed reservations about advancing these issues. This context has also led to some debate within the BJP, with sections arguing that the Hindutva element of the party needs to be diluted and replaced with a laissez faire, free market-oriented political thrust.
However, the Chauhan government’s move shows that while the BJP and its central leadership may not be as vocal as they used to be on the three proclaimed core ideological issues and may even discuss alternative ideas in pursuing right-wing politics, the party’s State units would continue to advance Hindutva causes, which have pronounced anti-minority dimensions, in manifold ways. It is not Madhya Pradesh alone that has traversed this path. All the States that have come under the political and organisational influence of the Sangh Parivar have shown this tendency in varying degrees. Before Chauhan’s cow protection initiative, Gujarat had come up with amendments to an Act that dealt with the prohibition of transfer of immovable property and stipulated provisions for the protection of tenants from eviction from premises in disturbed areas. The amendment gave the government the right to decide how the transaction of property in disturbed areas should take place. Given Gujarat’s track record of the past 10 years, as also the prevailing administrative climate in the State, this was obviously heavily loaded against the Muslim minority. The Chhattisgarh government’s anti-conversion Bill of 2006 had similar characteristics.
A closer look at this phenomenon has revealed that the trend of promoting Hindutva-oriented legislative and administrative action as well as the discrimination of minorities is all the more pronounced in States where the BJP had been in power for relatively long periods. A look at the functioning of the BJP-ruled governments underscores the point that numerous aspects of governance, including the drafting of legislation, policy orientation, issuance of executive orders, maintenance of law and order and routine day-to-day administrative functioning, are exploited for this purpose (see separate stories). Almost all BJP-ruled States have, at some point or the other, witnessed attempts to promote the Hindutva world view through revision of textbooks. This is in tune with the view of the Sangh Parivar leadership that education is a crucial tool in promoting its visions about society and the world. In Madhya Pradesh, even the nomenclature of teachers has been revised as part of this exercise. The Chauhan government’s preferred title for teachers is rishi.
A variety of Sangh Parivar constituents such as the Bajrang Dal, the VHP and the Seva Bharati supplement this Hindutva thrust using methods ranging from social service to propaganda to threats to downright oppression. While the Seva Bharati and Ekal Vidyalayas have a record of sustained work in the realm of education and promotion of literacy, outfits such as the Bajrang Dal seek to dominate local communities by imposing Hindutva-oriented social mores and religious practices. The efforts in education and social sectors are facilitated in numerous ways by a number of Hindutva organisations, including those based abroad. Here too, there is a range of outfits that the Sangh Parivar can choose from at different times for different tasks. The VHP of America openly embraces Hindutva while organisations such as the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF) are camouflaged under the constitutional format of a charity group. The IDRF has provided huge financial support (running into millions of dollars) to organisations in the education sector.
The social impact of these manoeuvres is undoubtedly far-reaching. Reports from Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP has been in power since 1998 and 2003 respectively, point to increasing ghettoisation of minority communities, particularly the Muslim community. These reports also underscore the systematic attempts to subvert the secular character of the education system (see separate story). The Independent People’s Tribunal on Communalism, which consisted of eminent citizens like the historian K.N. Panikkar, Justice S.N. Bhargava, the sociologist Dr Asghar Ali Engineer, and Planning Commission member Syeeda Hameed, studied issues relating to this in detail five years ago by getting depositions from people in 16 States, including Gujarat, Rajasthan, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka.
BJP LEADER L.K. ADVANI receives Ganga jal from Uttarakhand Chief Minister B.C. Khanduri (not in picture) during his Jan Chetna Yatra, in Haridwar on November 18.
The tribunal pointed out methodical attempts to marginalise the minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians. Specifically, it also noted that there were attempts at systematic clearing or dispossession of lands belonging to members of minority communities. The subtle and not-so-subtle communalisation of the bureaucracy, especially lower-level officials, the police and the district administration, facilitated these discriminatory processes. The tribunal noted that “the criminal justice system in several States appears to be under the influence of Hindutva force and consequently there are instances of false cases being foisted against innocent Muslims”. Other trends pointed out by the tribunal included denial of education to members of minority communities as well as attempts at their social and economic boycott.
The BJP-ruled States present any number of instances of the practice of the trends identified by the tribunal. The circular issued by the Chauhan government last year to all police stations directing them to collect information about Christians, including data on the number of priests, bishops, schools and institutions, is a case in point. The circular directed the police stations to find out what sort of political patronage the community received and what their economic sources were and to identify Christians with criminal antecedents.
Conclaves of purification
While these initiatives of the BJP governments and the Sangh Parivar affiliates continue apace in diverse areas, the VHP has been quietly organising shudhi melas (conclaves of purification) with the objective of making people embrace Hinduism. One such mela was organised in December 2011 at Shajahanpur in Uttar Pradesh. According to VHP activists, 1,200 people embraced Hinduism at the mela.
“Such melas were organised in Haryana and Jharkhand too last year,” an Uttar Pradesh-based VHP activist told Frontline. He said this initiative of the Sangh Parivar was a not-so-open challenge to the prosleytisation being carried out by Christian missionaries. Cumulatively, all these activities, from amending or drafting pieces of legislation to issuing administrative orders by BJP governments to the shudhi melas, signify that the Sangh Parivar is continuing on the Hindutva path using different means. At another level, the silence at the national level on the controversial core Hindutva issues combined with the pursuit of other aspects of the Hindutva agenda points to the political and organisational felicity of the Sangh Parivar. In fact, it has displayed this felicity repeatedly in the past four and a half decades.
In the 1970s, before the imposition of the Emergency in 1975, it aligned with the Jayaprakash Narayan-led Total Revolution, suggesting that it would play second fiddle to the Socialist leader. Post-Emergency and following the defeat of the Congress in 1977, the RSS even took the “boldest “decision to merge the Jan Sangh with the Janata Party, which consisted of diverse groups ranging from the Socialist Party to the free market-oriented Swatantra Party. However, when the dual membership in the RSS became an issue in the Janata Party, it displayed the skill to reinvent itself as the BJP, with professed values of Gandhian socialism. By the mid-1980s, this adherence to Gandhian socialism was given up in favour of an aggressive Hindutva and the campaign for a Ram temple at the spot where the Babri Masjid stood in Ayodhya. The demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 took the emotive content out of the Ayodhya campaign, and the Sangh Parivar once again nuanced the aggressive pursuit of Hindutva. At the peak of the Ayodhya movement in 1990-92, large sections of the Sangh Parivar had seen visions of the rise of a pan-Hindu political identity, but the demolition of the Babri Masjid alienated sizable segments of secular Hindu society, even those who had regard for some leaders in the BJP.
Sailing in many political boats
Consequently, the BJP was forced to tone down the rhetoric on Ayodhya. This led to the strengthening of the BJP-led NDA in the mid-1990s, leading to its six-year stint in power at the Centre between 1998 and 2004. This period witnessed several subtle and not-so-subtle attempts at pursuing the Hindutva social and cultural agenda, especially in the area of education. The fall of the NDA government in 2004 once again signified the reduction of the Hindutva quotient even while taking it forward in the States. Clearly, these stratagems have involved sailing in many political boats. An overall assessment would have it that the Sangh Parivar has carried all this out adeptly.
It is not as though these processes and the multi-boat sailing have been carried out without a hitch. The tumbling down from the “Ayodhya high” does contain the message that majoritarianism and its political manifestations are not effective tools to attain power in a country like India, where Hindu society has been historically divided for centuries on the basis of oppressive caste discrimination. The period after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, which signified the alienation of sections of Hindu society also had caste dimensions. It was the lower strata of society that effectively stopped the rise of the pan-Hindu political identity. At the same time, the leadership of the Sangh Parivar is driven by the realisation that its attempts to develop a pan-Hindu political identity can go forward only with extraordinarily assertive Hindu identity politics, characterised by slogans such as Ayodhya Ram mandir and cow protection. The Sangh Parivar hopes that such assertion will ultimately lead to the creation of a pan-Hindu political identity.
The combination of multiple public postures and the periodic stints in power have indeed resulted in many problems for the Sangh Parivar, including ideological confusion and clashes between the different outfits in the Hindutva combine. One significant clash in the last decade and a half has been between the VHP and the BJP, following the VHP’s accusations about the dilution of the Hindutva agenda by the BJP. This climate, which was marked by stints in power at the Centre and in the States, also gave rise to a culture of personality cult in the BJP and tussles within its leadership. So much so that, at a conclave in 2004, the RSS leadership even contemplated propping up another political arm for the Sangh Parivar. The RSS top brass’ contention at that meeting was that the BJP no longer fulfilled the primary objective that the Sangh Parivar had envisioned for it: that of developing a pan-Hindu political identity.
A number of meetings of the Sangh Parivar constituents grappled with these issues between 2004 and 2009 even as one-time Hindutva stars such as former Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Uma Bharati caused one organisational problem after another. While issues relating to Advani sprang from his controversial “positive” assessment of Pakistan founder Mahammad Ali Jinnah and his reluctance to demit office as party president, Uma Bharati was perceived as one prone to get into personality tussles with other leaders. She even went out of the BJP during this turbulent period. According to Sangh Parivar insiders, it cannot be said that the issues have been settled, although the BJP has more or less fallen in line.
L.K. ADVANI, CHIEF Ministers Raman Singh (Chhattisgarh) and B.C. Khanduri (Uttarakhand), BJP president Rajnath Singh, Chief Ministers B.S. Yeddyurappa (Karnakata), Narendra Modi (Gujarat) and Shivraj Singh Chauhan (Madhya Pradesh) at the BJP National Executive meeting in New Delhi in 2008.
“At present, politically and organisationally the Sangh leadership is asserting itself, at least more steadily than in the 2000-04 period. The Hindutva-oriented initiatives that one has seen in different States recently are also a reflection of this assertion,” an RSS functionary based in Lucknow said.
According to Sangh Parivar insiders, the appointment of Nitin Gadkari as BJP president was an important step in this consolidation. The periodic meetings, both formal and informal, organised by the RSS to bring all major Hindutva outfits together have facilitated the multitasking by the national and State units of the BJP and other Sangh Parivar organisations.
The last major formal Samanwaya Baithak (togetherness meeting) of the Sangh Parivar took place in Ujjain in August 2011. At this meeting, it was decided that the strategy for the BJP central leadership would be to raise an anti-corruption campaign along with civil society organisations and their leaders such as Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev, while the State governments would focus on “Hindutva-oriented good governance”.
Assessments in the Sangh Parivar on the success of this good governance are divided. Sections of the RSS and the VHP still consider that the Hindutva quotient of many BJP State governments is not “up to the mark”, while those running the governments aver that they are doing their best. Whatever the final evaluation on this debate, there is little doubt that the impact of the Hindutva-oriented good governance on the minority communities is a painful one.
- frontline cover story
Tamil Nadu, December 13, 2011: The Supreme Court today pulled up the Kerala and Tamil Nadu governments on the Mullaperiyar dam issue and asked them to maintain restraint in their statements.
“Both the parties instead of dousing the fire are adding fuel to it. There has to be sanity and sensitiveness,” a five-judge constitution bench, headed by Justice D K Jain, said.
The court asked Tamil Nadu to ensure that the water level in the dam does not exceed 136 feet but declined to entertain Kerala’s plea for reducing the level to 120 feet.
The Kerala government wanted the change because it alleges that leaks, tremors and the age of the 116-year-old dam make it vulnerable to collapse.
“Safety of the people is paramount, whether in Tamil Nadu or Kerala…this can’t be compromised,” said the judges.
It also asked the Centre to clarify its position on Tamil Nadu’s plea for deployment of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) to protect the dam from possible vandalism.
Tamil Nadu has in the Supreme Court accused Kerala government of manufacturing safety concerns to build public opinion against the dam.
The court today suggested it does not favor this “attempt to gag politicians.”
It also objected to ads released by Tamil Nadu that cite opinions and observations of different judges on the Mullaperiyar dispute.
The judges said the government should not use court proceedings for political gain.
- times of india/ndtv