The late Dilip Singh Judeo, poster boy of the Bharatiya Janata Party for re-conversion of Christian tribals to Hinduism became the subject of a TV sting in 2003. He was shown taking a bribe, touching the wad of notes offered to his forehead saying, “Paisa khuda to nahin par khuda ki kasam khuda se kam bhi nahin (Money isn’t God. But by God, it’s no less than God).” Mr Judeo had spoken an essential truth for people suffering from acute economic deprivation, money indeed is no less than God.
The Hindutva activists, who so brazenly converted 57 families of poor migrant Muslims of Agra with the promise of Below the Poverty Line (BPL) ration cards and water supply to “return home” (ghar vapsi) to Hinduism are unlikely to be deterred by debates in Parliament.
The Dharam Jagran Samiti, an RSS body, is seeking donations for conversion Rs 5 lakh to convert a Muslim and Rs 1 lakh to convert a Christian to Hinduism. Its letter soliciting cash contributions claims that Christians and Muslims have become a “problem” for the country and says, “Bandhuwar (Friends), lots of money will be required in the ‘ghar vapsi’ because the work of conversion is increasing more workers and more people need to be covered.” In offering allurements for conversion how is it any different from the Christian proselytisers the RSS criticises?
Moreover, foreign funds for conversion are used just as Christian missionaries are said to do. The activities of the RSS in tribal areas have been funded by a US-based body, International Development Relief Fund (IDRF). According to the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate, also based in the US, 82 per cent of all IDRF funding goes to the RSS in India and 70 per cent of the monies are used for “Hinduisation/tribal/ education” work, aimed at spreading Hindutva ideology among tribals.
The main focus of the RSS had been the reconversion of Christians. Its prominent organisations which work among the tribals are: Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Ekal Vidyalaya, Sewa Bharati, Vivekananda Kendra, Bharat Kalyan Parishad and Friends of Tribal Society. Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Ekal Vidyalaya and Sewa Bharati have been implicated in the past in anti-Christian violence in Madhya Pradesh.
It might be recalled that the saffron terror accused Swami Aseemanand, currently inexplicably on bail, was associated with Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad (different from the Ashram), an affiliate of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, He organised forced conversion of Christian tribals in Gujarat besides plotting the Mecca Masjid bombing in Hyderabad. His organisation also received IDRF funds.
The re-conversion project of the RSS is not new. It believes that re-conversion would lead to, “national integration”. It also secures electoral gains to the BJP by increasing its influence in the tribal areas and by communally polarising the voters.
Conversion activities among Muslims have been around as well, especially in Rajasthan, but more low key and less publicised. Hindutva ideologues see Indian Muslims as fifth columnists and therefore the need to bring them back into the Hindutva fold.
The RSS formulation that India must be both “pitra-bhumi” (ancestral land) and “punya-bhumi” (holy land) makes Christians and Muslims special targets for conversion. They can never be truly Indian or “Hindu” for the RSS because the Christians have their Holy Land in Jerusalem and a large number looks to the Vatican for guidance, while the Muslims look towards Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Hence the re-conversion requires them to “confess” that their ancestors were Hindus and enables their return to the Hindu fold.
The new-found aggression of the RSS organisations in re-conversion is their understanding that under the Narendra Modi dispensation, their time for expansion has begun, which they refer to as “Vistaar ka samay” an expansion which is not only political but also social and cultural.
The political expansion of the BJP seems for the moment unstoppable. It has made deep inroads in some of the states where it was virtually non-existent. In West Bengal, the BJP is giving Mamata Banerjee sleepless nights. In Jammu and Kashmir, the party is set to make major electoral gains. It has also found toe-hold in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the BJP, having done exceptionally well in the Lok Sabha elections, is set to expand its electoral base further.
Those who make a distinction between the so-called “moderate” face of the BJP identified with its current undisputed leader Mr Modi and the frothing fringes in the Hindutva family, need to understand that the RSS deploys horses for courses. While elections are won by moderate voices, more extreme elements have also been rewarded with ministries in the government. They include Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, who referred to all non-BJP supporters as “illegitimate”, Giriraj Singh, who asked all opponents of Mr Modi to go to Pakistan and Sanjeev Baliyaan, who stands accused of communal riots in Muzaffarnagar. Only Yogi Adityanath with his allegations of a “love jihad” has not been accommodated as yet.
A flotilla of RSS organisations protects the mother ship the RSS and its Hindutva ideology. They are autonomous yet linked by a command structure of RSS functionaries, sent to keep them to the straight and narrow.
This structure allows some to indulge in re-conversion, some to foment communal violence, some to rewrite history and tinker with the education system and yet others to claim to provide good and inclusive governance.
It is part of the ideological expansion of Hindutva politics that we are witnessing in the banning of German from school curricula and making Sanskrit compulsory in some states and schools, providing a historical “date” for the Mahabharat war and demanding that the Bhagavad Gita be declared a national scripture.
The response to the RSS expansion has been tremendous, with everybody and his uncle trying to project some real or imaginary family connection to the RSS. Spearheading this expansion of Hindutva ideology are men who wear non-Vedic khaki short-pants and broad military style belts, borrowing their militaristic ideology from the Brown Shirts of Mussolini, clearly a product of Kalyug.
The writer is a journalist based in New Delhi
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