The issue of religious conversion, which stalled the Rajya Sabha for the better part of last week, was raised by Congress MP K.C. Venugopal in the Lok Sabha on Monday, following media reports about the re-conversion of 30 Dalit Christians in Kerala. Everyone, he stressed, had the right to convert and therefore, these re-conversion camps were “not innocent,” especially as they came even as VHP leader Pravin Togadia announced his ambition of ensuring that instead of 82 per cent Hindus it should be 100 per cent.
He was supported by other members of the Congress and opposition parties. But the government did not allow any one, including N.K. Premachandran (RSP), who had also given notice on the same subject, and whose constituency had also seen conversions to speak.
Instead, Union Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu rose as soon as Mr. Venugopal had his say: “The government has no role in conversions or re-conversions. The party [the BJP] has nothing to do with the individuals who are doing it. If anybody violates the law, the law should take its course.”
When Opposition MPs rose to protest, Mr. Naidu said, “People have elected us, People are happy with us. You have ruled for 50 years — you must have patience.”
When Congress leader Mallikarjuna Kharge referred to Mr. Naidu’s earlier comment that he was proud of his RSS background, he shot back, “You are proud of Gandhi parivar, I am proud of Sangh parivar.” He also objected to opposition slogans such as “PM bhaag gaya,” saying, “You attack our leader again and again. ... We should have respect for each other.”
Mr. Kharge said conversion programmes were being organised across the country and the Prime Minister should come to the House and make a statement “because this is not a BJP government, this is a Modi government.” Later, leading a walkout of opposition parties, Mr. Kharge said, “We condemn the attitude of the government.”
Rejecting the demand, Mr. Naidu said that when a Minister had replied in the House on the issue, the Prime Minister need not give a reply again. Taking exception to Mr. Kharge’s contention that only Mr. Modi mattered in the government, Mr. Naidu said, “ Hum log kya hain fir [what are we then]? We are Ministers. Modiji listens to all of us. The Prime Minister is the captain of the team and there is a collective responsibility. We are equal.”
In the midst of heated exchanges between the Opposition and BJP MPs, Rajesh Ranjan (RJD) and AIUDF member Badruddin Ajmal rushed into the well while some Congress, Left and Trinamool Congress MPs rushed in to the aisle.
Post-lunch, the Opposition remained unrelenting, resulting in successive adjournments for short durations. Though Deputy Speaker M. Thambidurai continued with proceedings, he called the first adjournment when Mr. Ranjan tore a newspaper and threw it around. Some bits landed on the Speaker’s table.
When the House met again, Mr. Thambidurai reprimanded Mr. Ranjan by name and asked why he had thrown paper at the Chair. The RJD member repeatedly denied that he had intended to throw paper at the Chair. Mr. Kharge then intervened: “We respect you. We do not have any intention to insult the Chair. Our anger is only towards the government because they are not listening to us, they are bulldozing everything.”
This triggered another sharp exchange between Mr. Kharge and Mr. Naidu and as the Congress leader’s mike was shut off, the Opposition —picketing the well — again began protesting. A. Sampath (CPI-M) got so agitated that he took ill. He was taken to hospital. The House was adjourned again.