NEW DELHI: Facing accusations of pursuing communal agenda against the backdrop of conversion in Agra, government on Thursday asserted in Lok Sabha that it was committed to maintain communal harmony and suggested that all states as well as the Centre should have anti-conversion laws.
Replying to a debate on conversions even as several opposition parties staged a walkout, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu rejected allegations against "mother" organisation RSS and accused the opposition parties of spreading "misinformation" to "tar" the image of the Sangh as well as that of the Modi government.
During the discussion that was taken up after a round of uproar on the second straight day, opposition parties attacked the government, RSS and its affiliates, accusing them of creating communal polarisation and tensions, while citing the case of conversion of some Muslims in Agra.
"These people (in opposition) said so many things about RSS. What is the link?...RSS is a great organisation, a social organisation. I feel proud to have RSS background...If they accuse, abuse my mother organisation, from which we have taken inspiration, how can I be a mute spectator.
- Venkaiah Naidu
Hitting back at the opposition and taking pot-shots at Congress which has been "rejected" in Lok Sabha polls, he said "some people are allergic to the word Hindu" and they target RSS and the government over any or other development that may occur in any state, ruled by any party.
On the particular incident of conversion in Agra, he made it clear that the Centre had no role in dealing with it as it was a subject matter of the Uttar Pradesh government and the local administration should take action.
However, if needed, the Centre could issue an advisory to the state government, he said while replying to the unscheduled short duration debate which was taken up on insistence of the opposition parties. Naidu replied in the absence of Home Minister Rajnath Singh who was campaigning in Jharkhand.
'A National Challenge'
Describing conversions and re-conversions as "national challenge" as these create tensions, he said, "Let us introspect. Let there be anti-conversion laws in all states as also at the Centre" so that all religions practices and beliefs are preserved. "Let us all seriously work towards progress."
At the same time, Naidu said the freedom of faith cannot be a licence for sustained proselytisation with the help of foreign funds, which specifically targets tribals and the poor.
He said the Centre was committed to maintain communal harmony and was ready to offer any help to states for this.
He rejected the opposition contention that communal incidents had gone up since the Modi government came, saying these incidents have shown a decline as per the data collected from all the states.
"We are one country, one people. We respect freedom of faith as a fundamental right of every citizen... We believe in this philosophy," Naidu said and targeted opposition as he asked, "Which party is responsible for partition?"
While attacking Congress, he invoked Mahatma Gandhi and said the Father of the Nation had suggested laws against conversion which was not done.
Contending that 'Hindutva' and 'Bharatiyata' (Indianness) are virtually the same, Naidu said the word Hindu was not coined by BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L K Advani or even the RSS.
"These people (in opposition) said so many things about RSS. What is the link?...RSS is a great organisation, a social organisation. I feel proud to have RSS background...If they accuse, abuse my mother organisation, from which we have taken inspiration, how can I be a mute spectator," he said.
These comments triggered an uproar after which members of opposition parties including Congress, Left, Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party and AIMIM staged a walkout.
Opposition parties had earlier forced several adjournments in the House demanding a discussion, alleging that issue could have grave consequences like causing riots.
Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said the matter should be taken up as a special case. "It is a very, very serious matter and there is threat to the unity of the country."
Initiating the debate, Jyotiraditya Scindia (Congress) alleged that in Agra, Muslims were promised ration cards to convert to Hinduism and took a jibe at the government, wondering if these were the "achchhe din (good days)" it had promised.
Saugata Roy (TMC) took potshots at BJP, accusing it of causing "religious polarisation" and referred to a ruling party MP's comment that Nathuram Godse was a patriot like Mahatma Gandhi, whom he had killed.
"I thought BJP is for Ram. I got to know that it is for Nathuram...," he said.
SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose party is in power in UP, however, earlier attacked BJP but softened later, wondering if members were provoked into discussion by reading newspapers as the issue had no impact in Agra and neighbouring places.
"This discussion is unnecessary... It can have a reverse impact," he said, as some BJP members thumped their desks.
The House should pass a resolution against any kind of discrimination, he said.
The Parliamentary Affairs Minister also said that he had talked to Agra DM and Home Ministry officials who had said that situation in Agra is peaceful.
Naidu praised responses of Yadav and BJD's B Mahtab, who spoke about the need of having an anti-conversion law like Odisha across the country, and accused Congress of indulging in "disinformation campaign".
He cited the case of promoting Sanskrit in education and said a proposal in this regard had been mooted by the previous UPA government but current HRD Minister Smriti Irani was targeted for it.
The Minister, whose reply was interspersed with humorous quotations and rhymes, also slammed the opposition for questioning why Irani visited an astrologer.
Describing her move as a matter of "private belief", he questioned the controversy, saying the government has not issued any circular that ministers should visit astrologers.
"Smriti is such a nice person. She has been praised by all. But you ask why did you go to astrologer. What is the problem? There is no circular that all should go to astrologer. I do not go. But why do you insult her," he said.
"On communal violence, you proved to be wrong. On Sanskrit, you proved to be wrong... By spreading such disinformation, you shifted from here (treasury) benches to there (opposition) and sent us from there to here... If you remain like that, you may be there for a decade or two," he said, while counselling patience to the Congress benches.