Politics is war by other means. In Narendra Modi’s India, religion is becoming politics by other means. The Prime Minister, however, doesn’t seem comfortable with the development agenda being overwhelmed by the Far Right at a time when he is refashioning India as a revived Asian Tiger globally.
The BJP’s majority in Parliament is thanks to Modi’s charisma and vision. Its sustenance is contiguous with his credibility as a modern reformer than a religious champion. His greatest challenge today is to balance his development mandate with the aspirations of the saffron clergy, which had been marginalised by secular propaganda for decades. Last few days have been embarrassing for the government, starting with Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti’s ‘haraamzada’ speech. For the first time, the PM was on the defensive, excusing her as a village woman who was speaking the unsophisticated patois of rural India. Soon after, BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj declared Godse a nationalist. Uttar Pradesh governor Ram Naik deviated from gubernatorial neutrality on the Ram temple. The conversion issue has brought a weak, divided Opposition to unite on one platform, though their newfound fraternal opportunism is driven by pure survival instinct—they fear a Hindu revival will erode their minority and caste vote banks. Unfortunately, the fallout affects the BJP’s image as a modern party that champions development, and portrays it as a medieval revivalist outfit at a time Parliament is in session.
Conversion is a clash of cultural DNAs. Arabs brought Islam to India in the 7th century. Historians believe Christianity came to India with St. Thomas in 52 AD. According to the 2001 census, India has 138 million Muslims and 24 million Christians. Historically, conquerors converted using force, torture and inducements—like Portuguese inquisitors in Goa, Mughal dictators like Babur and Aurangzeb and later British missionaries. By 1947, the number of converts had grown exponentially, driven more by economic and social motives than divine conviction. Most are from the lower castes, the poorest of the poor who exist on the margins of India’s rural society. Christian organisations added to their flock with promises of education, food and social equality. NGOs working in tribal areas have made the God Switcheroo conditional. The Arabs pump in money to fund mosques and proselytising imams. Yet, new faith hasn’t brought progress—0.6 per cent of Indian Muslims are lower castes, 0.5 are STs, 39.7 belong to backward classes and 59.2 are upper castes. Christian STs comprise 38.9 per cent, SCs 9.4, backward classes 20.9 and upper castes 30.8. The voluntary conversion of 300 Muslims to Hinduism in Agra was an economic backlash against decades of Nehruvian Socialism, which emasculated minority progress with corrupt schemes and muscle power instead of empowering Muslims with education and employment opportunities. They are now responding to Modi’s New Deal. It is a cruel irony that our ‘secular’ parties are the new champions of religious freedom.
Two BJPs dominate the national discourse—the BJP of India and the BJP of Bharat, which are in conflict. A large section of Indians voted for Modi than for the BJP because of the governance model he represented, than the reinvention of mythological India. The politics of confrontation arising from the divide will only alienate this section and spell doom for Superpower India. Hinduism is eternal India, but governance cannot wait. Nobody knows this better than the PM.