A dangerous trend

If I recall correctly it was the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee's telephone call to the Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi's immediate

predecessor that nipped in the bud the proposed conversion bill for the State. Mr. Vajpayee was reportedly worried over its misuse. The overzealous BJP president, Venkaiah Naidu, is contradicting, if not challenging, his leader and Prime Minister when he goes about saying that

every State should have an Act on the lines of the Tamil Nadu ordinance on religious conversions passed today despite protests. He is serving the

Hindutva cause but not India's. There are enough provisions in the Constitution to deal with those who convert through force or fraudulent means.

The ordinance has made the lives of the minorities more difficult. It has created in Tamil Nadu and in the rest of the country an atmosphere where Muslims, Christians and Dalits are once again uneasy and insecure. Christians expressed their resentment by closing their educational institutions in Tamil Nadu. The Dalits have shown it by some among them embracing Buddhism after the police-inspired lynching of five of them at a village in Haryana.

What faith I follow is my outlook. This is a matter between my God and me. So long as there is no coercion, I can embrace any religion. Article 25 of the Constitution protects my right to practise, profess and propagate my

religion. But my right ends where others' begin. I have to safeguard against that. The Tamil Nadu law, apparently meant to please Hindu fundamentalists, has defeated the spirit of our pluralistic society, the

nation's ethos. The sooner it is withdrawn, the quicker will the fears of non-Hindus, generally under pressure, disappear. Hindus have no greater claim to the country than other Indians have.

I see a sense of superiority in the way we have a feeling of glee in India over the victory of religious parties in Pakistan's recent elections. In our own country, religious parties have been emerging in the last few years,

although their nomenclature is different. Whether the BJP or the Shiv Sena and the Sangh Parivar or the Muslim League in Kerala, they have their religious content even though they do not keep it under wraps.

How are Praveen Tagodia, Bal Thackeray and Ashok Singhal different from Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Moulana Shah Ahmed and Fazalur Rehman of Pakistan? All of them appeal in the name of religion and their support among the electorate is purely based on a theocratic thesis. In both the countries, they were ignored in the beginning. But they plugged away

at their line. In Pakistan they are the second largest party in the National Assembly and, in India, the BJP is the largest with 181 seats in the 545-member House.

Unlike Pakistan, democracy in India has stayed intact. Our saving grace is that we are an open society and people still believe in the authority of the Constitution. Despite the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal or the Shiv Sena, the nation continues to have a secular temperament and the majority believe in the pluralistic ethos which Mahatma Gandhi advocated.

Pakistan did not have so much religion when it was created.

True, religion was the basis on which it was constituted. However, its founder, Qaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, had second thoughts on the two-nation thesis. He told his people that the two nations did not represent Hindus and Muslims but Indians and Pakistanis.

This took the wind out of the sails of religious parties. What they did in the united India to create divisions was no more relevant. They could not harness support on the slogan that Islam was in danger. The preponderance of Muslims in Pakistan had made such a cry futile. Religious parties realised this to their dismay when they failed at one poll after another.

It was General Zia-ul-Haq's drive for Islamisation, even in the armed forces, which contributed to revivalism. The absence of democracy only strengthened the self-proclaimed fanatics. The field became open. Political parties, on the other hand, were too complacent and too confident. They

dismissed religious outfits as a nuisance. But the mullahs and the maulvis never gave up and made their nefarious activities felt from the sinecure of mosques and madrasas. Today's Pakistan is a product of those efforts operating over decades.

The phenomenon is more visible in the fields of information and education. In the name of tradition and heritage, India's multi-cultural society is sought to be pawned to the demagogues of one culture. The Information Minister, Sushma Swaraj, and the Human Resource Minister, Murli Manohar Joshi, are the worst culprits. The first is peddling a particular point of view, the majority community's religious beliefs and superstitions to the detriment of pluralism and clear thinking.

The second is introducing new textbooks in schools and appointing Sangh Parivar men in government or government-aided institutions to disseminate prejudice and distortion in the name of history. Both defend themselves

that their purpose is to ensure that our "national values" stay intact. The Sangh Parivar-inclined intellectuals, journalists, historians and others are being broken into saffronisation and organised.

I can see the beginnings of what happened in Pakistan in my own country. The one-nation ideal, which animated our national struggle, is still there. But, without spelling out the two-nation theory, some political combinations are foisting it on the country under a different terminology:

Hindus are one nation and the minorities another. This will destroy the country.

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