Even as the RSS and its affiliates continue their ‘ghar wapsi’ programme, a worried NDA government is readying a plan to reach out to the minority population. While Minister of State, Minority Affairs, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi is set to tour areas which have a high minority population, actor Amitabh Bachchan has been roped in for an ad film that stresses the need to rise above religion and caste for inclusive development. The film is a brainchild of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who personally called up Bachchan.
“It is true that there are misgivings among minority communities about this government. Their confidence has to be won. That will not happen sitting inside the office, it will only happen when you go to them in the field. That is why I have decided to go back to the field — not as a minister but as a political and social activist — to look at how schemes are being implemented on the ground,” Naqvi told The Indian Express.
Starting from Kerala on January 2-3 — the state has a large Christian population, a community which has been at the receiving end of the anti-conversion rhetoric of Sangh leaders — Naqvi plans to “cover at least 60-70 per cent” states before the Budget Session. He also plans to hold a national level consultation in January-end with state minority ministers and the Union Finance Minister to discuss the development issues plaguing the minority communities.
Naqvi has already started one-on-one meetings with the state minority ministers — the first two were with the Rajasthan and Karnataka ministers — and has spoken to some others on the phone. He said he has also sought meetings with minority ministers of other states including West Bengal, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra and Assam.
Naqvi claimed the “ghar wapsi” controversy is a temporary furore that will die down as soon as the government engages with people on “real issues” like development. It is a temporary issue that has got precedence by default, he said. “This is what happens if you do not involve people with real issues like development. That is when such a non-issue will dominate. Some people will do this but the development agenda of the government cannot be grounded by such people,” said Naqvi.
Naqvi’s plans may infuse a sense of urgency in the functioning of the Minority Affairs Ministry, which is the only ministry that has not made any announcements or plans since the NDA government took over in May. The post-Sachar evaluation report of the Amitabh Kundu committee was handed over to the ministry in September, but no action has been taken yet.
Meanwhile, the ad film, likely to be released before Republic Day, features Bachchan flying a kite and talking about India’s diversity and culture. While comparing the country to a rainbow, with different religions and castes, he asks, “But does education have any caste? Does development have any religion? Does progress belong to any particular sect?”
The PM and Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley are also likely to deliver messages in the film that seek to bring the focus back on the governance agenda.
This comes after recent controversies involving senior leaders, including Union Minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti’s “Ramzadon-haramzadon” remark, BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj’s praise of Nathuram Godse, and the VHP’s “ghar wapsi” campaign.
“The PM and senior ministers were upset with RSS Sarsanghchalak’s statement on conversion. They felt his statement gave authenticity to others’ statements,” said a party leader. Addressing a VHP rally in Kolkata earlier this month, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said India is a Hindu nation and “those who are raising their voice against the rise of Hindus are selfish and have vested interests”, warning that this would lead to a confrontation.
Worried over such voices overshadowing the government’s message and agenda, top ministers of the Modi government held a meeting with RSS leaders last week at Union Minister Nitin Gadkari’s residence. Senior ministers Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj, senior BJP leader Ram Lal and RSS leaders Bhaiyyaji Joshi and Krishna Gopal were among those present at the meeting.