Under Opposition fire for allowing RSS and its affiliates to push ahead with their conversion and ‘ghar wapsi’ campaigns, the government told Lok Sabha Thursday it was in favour of anti-conversion laws in all states and at the Centre too.
Opening a three-hour discussion on the issue of religious conversion — it was agreed upon after chaotic scenes in the House over the conversion of 57 Muslim families in Agra by Bajrang Dal activists — the Opposition mounted a spirited attack which lost steam when one of its own, the Samajwadi Party, broke ranks.
To the merriment of the treasury benches, SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose son Akhilesh Yadav is heading the government in Uttar Pradesh, repeated what some in the BJP said: “Nothing happened in Agra… will you run this House by reading newspapers?”
Later, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu’s remark “I am proud I have an RSS background” led to an uproar and the entire Opposition walked out without waiting for him to complete his reply to the discussion. “How can you allow a minister to speak in such a way,” angry Opposition members were heard telling the Speaker.
In his reply, Naidu said: “The RSS is a great organisation of the country. RSS means Ready for Selfless Service. That is RSS. I am proud I have an RSS background. It is because of RSS background, discipline, character, calibre, capacity that I have come to this level. We feel proud. Many of us have this background.”
Ignoring the walkout, he continued: “Some people are allergic to the word Hindu… Let there be anti-conversion laws in all states, let there be an anti-conversion law at the Centre… these people (Opposition) go on like a stuck HMV record… let me assure you, the Government will do all it takes to maintain harmony in this country.”
He said only five states — Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Odisha — currently have anti-conversion laws.
Key leaders on both sides were missing during the discussion — Prime Minister Narendra Modi and senior ministers, barring Venkaiah Naidu and Ananth Kumar, were not present in the House; Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Mallikarjun Kharge too were absent.
Jyotiraditya Scindia of the Congress, who opened the discussion, was repeatedly interrupted by BJP members when he accused the RSS, its Dharm Jagran affiliate and Bajrang Dal of being behind conversion and ‘ghar wapsi’ campaigns.
“Our country is a bouquet of not one kind of flower but many. The fragrance of its many flowers spreads across the world… I am proud to be a Hindu but my religion does not teach me to be narrow-minded, or have a narrow ideology. My dharm is a philosophy… It is being said that this (Agra incident) is just the start. They now want to convert Christians… this polarisation is part of a programme. If the soul of this country gets corrupted, there will be no way out,” Scindia said, demanding a statement from the Prime Minister.
Swami Sumedhanand Saraswati, fielded by the BJP as its first speaker, said: “I don’t think this discussion was needed. Some of my brothers have made an ordinary issue into a big one… If you read Manu, he has said ten things about religion which a Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, any person in the world can adopt. Our culture is not 1,000, 2,000 or 5,000 years old. It has been there since this universe came into being, our culture is 196 crore years old.”
Saugata Roy of Trinamool Congress said “this is a sensitive issue and we should not do or say anything which will raise the communal temperature of the House or the country”.
“I support the statement of Sumedhanandji when he said that the BJP is against conversion. In that case, I would like the House to unanimously adopt a resolution saying that conversion is not the philosophy of this country and the whole House stands against religious conversion.”
“It is known historically that when capitalists failed to give economic relief, they went for religious or racial issues. The best example of this is Adolf Hitler, who on the basis of Aryanism, created Fascism which is a mixture of reactionary philosophy and capitalism. That is the danger in the country. When economic relief will not be available, then religious divisive issues will be raised,” Roy said.
Assaduddin Owaisi of the AIMIM said Muslims were “not scared” of conversions and would continue to follow their religion. He urged the government to stop those behind the conversion and ‘ghar wapsi’ campaigns. His remark that BJP has an “umbilical cord” attached to “people behind these campaigns” drew an angry response from BJP benches. Owaisi also attacked Mulayam Singh Yadav and his party for being “hand in glove” with the BJP in Uttar Pradesh.