Namosis: Modern Talk, Blinkered Walk


 BY RK MISRA

Leaders rise by selling hope and fall trading it with despair. In power, each manufacturers its own brand of nemesis. This is as true of Indira Gandhi and son Rajiv as with Morarji Desai and Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
If the first two fell to multiplying expectations, the last two were done in by  divisions  and subtractions. Divisions in their own ranks and subtractions in popularity caused by the falsity of India shining. The Desai- headed Janata Party government was an amalgamation of diverse opposition groupings including Jan Sangh, which broke away on disintegration to form the BJP thereafter. The Vajpayee government was a BJP led coalition (NDA). Both Desai and Vajpayee governments withered  lotus- like as strident hindutva took precedence over objective governance. Now Narendra Modi’s full- bloom saffron government is  beginning to show  signs of the same contagious distraction within the first six months of its rule.
While Modi led BJP came to power as a backlash against corruption riding astride a  development- oriented governance agenda, the RSS seems to interpret the mandate as one for ushering in a hindu state. A strange frenzy has gripped  the various organs of the Sangh Parivar to rush the government into an ‘ancient’ charter of  urgent changes. Text books must be re-written, history revised, geography altered, cultural assimilation encouraged …… and so it goes on. The list is long. The hurry to ‘annex’ states democratically and to bring them into the saffron fold in pursuit of a BJP political  goal is understandable. What is not is the hurry to fulfil the ‘hindutva’ agenda.
“Smriti meets RSS to weed out ‘anomalies’ in history”, screams a national news daily headline. The meeting is part of BJP’s measures to ensure better coordination between the government and the party and it’s affiliated organization. Every other day  some or the other minister is going through a similar routine. Is there no better way of doing things?.When the then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh implemented  suggestions by a national panel headed by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, he was termed a spineless stooge taking orders from  an extra-constitutional authority. Now?.
The latest ,in a long line of controversial decisions, involves the one over the enacting of an anti-conversion law. It  all stemmed from the Mathura ‘episode’ of converting poor muslims to Hinduism which led to a furore in Parliament.
The VHP terms it ‘ghar vapasi’. Returning home, they call it. It’s fair by Sangh Parivar standards.Hindus can convert others at will but vice versa is a crime. In April 2013, BJP leader now union minister, Venkaiah Naidu had publicly announced  his party’s intent to bring an anti-conversion law to ban religious conversions in the country if his party was voted to power. Is it all as plain as it sounds or was the Mathura ‘episode’ timed to send temperatures soaring in Parliament to elicit the suggestion for a law.
We, in Gujarat, have seen things happen this way. During his chief ministerial stint in Gujarat, Modi had enacted the controversial ‘Freedom of Religion Act, 2003’. The law  came in for widespread criticism and even faced objections from  the government’s own legal department. It was finally activated in 2007 ahead of the Gujarat Assembly elections. The government’s official statement termed it as a necessary measure to stop all religious conversions  through inducements or threats in the ‘larger national interest’. Interestingly, Himachal Pradesh (2006) and Rajasthan (2008) followed suit with their own variations of  the anti-conversion law. Chhatisgarh had passed it around the time Gujarat did it (2003). Orissa was the first one in 1967 followed by MP in 1968. Rajasthan, though is yet to receive the nod to turn it into a statute.
Gujarat’s law, by far, remains the most stringent. It has a very wide ambit and provides for punishment for those seeking to convert whether  by allurement or through fraudulent means, with upto three years’ imprisonment and a fine of upto Rs50,000.In the case the individual being converted is a minor, a woman or a person belonging to scheduled caste or scheduled tribe, the punishment goers upto four years imprisonment and  a fine  upto Rs one lakh. The law also requires the person seeking to convert to take prior approval of the district magistrate and the one who is converting to also do the same. None of the other state’s Acts mandate so. The Gujarat law has already been challenged in the High Court.
The anti-conversion law in Gujarat makes for a high degree of official interference and provides for a more than passing role of the district magistrate. It would thus be easy for  an official to find reasons to disallow inter-religion marriages involving majority community girls. Statistics from Gujarat after the law came into force should make for interesting reading.
Since anything and everything that  was done in Gujarat during the Modi-era now constitutes the holy grail for his cabinet ministers, it is but logical, that ground preparation may have already begun for an anti- conversion  legislation at the national level.
Remember Gujarat under Modi never adopted the “National Curriculam Framework 2005” therefore textbooks by the Gujarat Council of Education and Training (GCERT) have only one paragraph on  the 350 years of Moghul rule in India. On the other hand the chapter meant for the study of moghul rule almost entirely devotes itself to how Mahmud of Ghazni, an invader from Afghanistan, pillaged and looted Gujarat and India. Social Science textbooks for classes 6 to 8 shot into focus for it’s bloomers that said that Japan had launched a nuclear attack on the United States in World War-ii!
This year, Dinanath Batra’s books are now  part of the curriculum in Gujarat. As is the historical fantasy of  akhand Bharat comprising of  Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal to name a few, as propagated by him and many others.
The Modi government could do well to remember the plight of  many others who strode onto the national stage colossus- like riding a fund of goodwill, only to find it all frittered away, pursuing ideosyncracies, and the mighties ending  up as mere  footnotes of national history. The popular mandate to Modi is for good development-oriented governance not archeological restoration of  an ancient, mythical charter. Let history not say that he was the one who raised a dust and then complained he could not see.No man is demolished but by himself! 

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