Breaking down news: To Be or Not To Be

When conversion is in the reverse direction, it’s a homecoming, a wapasi to a prior and authentic state

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | Published: December 13, 2014 3:27:57 am

As Delhi heads for assembly elections, the BJP and the Aam Aadmi Party are skirmishing on Delhi’s FM radio. Archetypal Punjabi middle class conservative Happy Singh complains that while the BJP is making great strides everywhere, slothful supporters like him are content to stay home and caress the “like” button, instead of rolling up their sleeves and wading in. The AAP is represented on radio by a young woman who is charmed by Arvind Kejriwal’s promise to install CCTV cameras on every street corner, to put the fear of technology into the vile populace. In another spot, in chaste Haryanvi eerily free of expletives, a man representing Delhi dehat speaks of rural schools and jobs.

There is a significant difference between these two characters and Happy Singh. The girl needs to go out and work and looks forward to a safe commute, and the Haryanvi has a family to raise. In contrast, if Happy helped out his party, it would only be at the expense of Facebook. He doesn’t seem to have much else to do, but he is a good political investment. Delhi teems with people who are inexplicably well off and spend their lives playing with huge smartphones, fit livestock for the BJP to farm intensively like battery chickens.

In an interview published this week, Arianna Huffington offered a quote which, given the dateline, caused a sinking feeling: “…Indians themselves have to rediscover traditions they may have rejected or dismissed and rediscover them in a new way.” She’s probably talking about the virtues of pranayam and amla, but the timing was a bit off in the week of ghar wapasi. Day after day, hour after hour, we saw Parliament stalled by issues relating to rediscovered identities. In Agra, poor people who had converted to Hinduism, allegedly lured by the promise of pucca homes and BPL cards, had watched the uproar on TV and decided to flee, since big people were in a rage and had become unpredictable. As Agra became saturated with journalists, News Nation reported that a college in Aligarh had been booked for another wapasi, and wondered how the BJP would live it down.

With practised ease, no doubt. The Hindutva undivided family are old hands at protesting that the right hand knows not what the left hand is doing, and their management of this situation is particularly sophisticated. TV excitedly reported that Parliamentary Affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu had said that the government was open to an anti-conversion law at the Centre and the states, but didn’t seem to sense the semantic game being played. When a person stops being Hindu and starts being Christian or Muslim, that’s conversion. When the change is in the reverse direction, it’s being defined as a homecoming, a wapasi to a prior and authentic state. Besides, it used to be said that conversion into Hinduism is illogical, since this very liberal tradition has no single “church” or congregation into which converts can be absorbed, and no single Book to sanctify the deed. If this is not just an urban legend, then proposing an anti-conversion law is clever beyond intelligent: it would selectively deter defection from Hinduism.

Meanwhile, Delhi’s liberals are fit to be tied. Ever since the BJP sweep in the general election, they had been looking forward to an inevitable showdown over free speech. But the action has suddenly moved to Kathmandu, goalposts and all. Nepal Television has stalled an episode of the satirical serial Tito Satya (bitter truth), possibly for making fun of Narendra Modi. PTI reported the story with some feeling, but Indian studios would have seen days and weeks of rage if it had happened here at home. Never mind, another time. There will always be another time.

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