INDIA: HINDU NATIONALISTS AND CONGRESS IN CONTENTION
- anti-conversion laws for BJP-ruled Rajasthan; federal Congress to re-enact historic Dandi march.
By Elizabeth Kendal
World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (WEA RLC)
Special to ASSIST News Service
AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- India's Sangh Parivar (body of Hindu nationalist organisations) continues to aggressively pursue its agenda of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism). The Sangh Parivar's political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), continues to agitate for anti-conversion laws. Likewise the Sangh Parivar's religious/cultural wing, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP – World Hindu Council), continues its "re-conversion" campaign enlisting the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS – Hindu paramilitary) and Bajrang Dal (Hindu youth militia) to forcefully and violently "re-convert" tribal Christians to Hinduism.In a recent report, Sankshipt Karyavrat-2004, the VHP claimed that 2004 was a successful year for its re-conversion campaign, with 12,857 members of the minority communities (3,727 Muslims and 9,130 Christians) being "re-converted" to Hinduism. Bishop Menezes of Ajmer-Jaipur dismisses such claims. "These are highly inflated figures," he told AsiaNews, confirming however that "Hindu fundamentalists operate with terror tactics especially among the poor defenceless Tribals and Adivasi". According to the VHP report, the leading states for re-conversion have been Gujarat, Rajasthan and Orissa. (Links 1)In Rajasthan (north-west India) the ruling BJP is moving to introduce laws to outlaw conversions to Christianity. Meanwhile, the Congress-led federal government is heading to neighbouring Gujarat where they will use the 75th anniversary of Mahatma Ghandi's historic Dandi march to remind Indians that Mahatma Ghandi's legacy of social and religious peace, tolerance and unity is both relevant and Indian, and as such, the Sangh Parivar's legacy of divisive, militant Hindutva may be rejected.
ANTI-CONVERSION LAWS FOR RAJASTHAN
For 30 years Emmanuel Mission has held its annual graduation ceremony at its headquarters in Kota, outside Jiapur the capital of Rajasthan. Compass Direct reports, "Emmanuel Mission organizes its five-day graduation ceremony every year in February. Attended by students from the 98 mission centers all over India, the event draws 5,000 people to Emmanuel headquarters in Kota as students collect their diplomas after completing their education." (CD 23 Feb)
This year however, Hindutva activists in Rajasthan had other ideas. On 19 February, some 200 activists of the RSS, Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal ambushed a group of more than 250 young Christian students from Andhra Pradesh as they arrived at the Kota railway station in the early hours of the morning en route to the Emmanuel Mission graduation. The students were beaten and robbed before being rounded up by local police and held in custody until the following evening. The police claimed to have taken statements from the visitors who "confessed" that they were Hindus who had been lured to Kota with offers of gifts and money. The police say the visitors then returned home. The Chairman of Emmanuel Mission said the students were forced to leave and the "statements" were police fabrications. Bishop Samuel Thomas, president of Emmanuel Ministries International (EMI) told AsiaNews that it was a "violent and unprovoked attack".
Subsequently Bajrang Dal activists held up some 600 students arriving from Kerala on buses. After three hours, with activists still refusing to let the buses pass, police arrested around 70 Bajrang Dal for breach of the peace.
The VHP accused the Mission of offering inducements to lure the young tribals to Kota in order to forcibly convert them to Christianity, and is now using this disinformation to fuel its push for anti-conversion laws.
On Wednesday 23 February the BJP government in Rajasthan announced to the state assembly that it would introduce an anti-conversion bill in either this sitting or the next. The government was particularly vexed by the fact that some 60 foreigners were attending the graduation function on tourist visas that they said did not give them the right to participate in such events. (Link 2)
NDTV (Indian service from New Delhi, Link 3) reported from Jaipur, "An announcement by the Rajasthan government [BJP] that it will come up with an anti-conversion bill has created a furore in the state assembly. The opposition [Congress] alleges the government is using the incident in Kota as an excuse to implement its saffron agenda. 'It is clear that the Home Minister is mouthing the line of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal and by bringing about such laws they want to harass the minorities,' says C S Baid, Congress leader."On 24 February the VHP and Bajrang Dal suspended their violent protests against the Emmanuel Mission graduation event after receiving a guarantee from EMI president Dr Samuel Thomas that no conversions or baptisms would take place during the five-day graduation event. Mission authorities invited VHP and government representatives to attend the graduation function and monitor it themselves. So representatives of the BJP and VHP attended and monitored the 23-27 February Emmanuel Mission graduation ceremony for conversions and baptisms, and the graduation proceeded under police guard. CONGRESS MARCHES FOR PEACE
On 12 March 1930 Mahatma Gandhi and 78 Congress volunteers set off on their historic "Dandi march" (or Salt march) in protest of Britain's salt tax. Mahatma Ghandi's stand for fairness and justice appealed to and united Indians across all social, ethnic and religious lines.
On 12 March 2005, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of that event, Congress will lead a re-enactment of the Dandi march. Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and senior Congress leaders will all march in the inaugural leg. The march will follow Mahatma Ghandi's footsteps from Ahmedabad (commencing 12 March) to Dandi (concluding 6 April).
The re-enactment is extremely strategic and significant, especially as it takes place in sectarian riot-ravaged BJP-led Gujarat state, home of Hindutva icon Narendra Modi. Congress is aiming to use the march to consolidate secular forces, counter the divisive politics and legacy of the BJP, re-ignite a passion for true Indian unity, reclaim Mahatama Gandhi's legacy of socio-religious tolerance and peace, and deal a blow to the Hindu nationalists.