The current Rajya Sabha impasse is a reflection of the furious unfolding of the Modi government’s ‘lethal cocktail’ — selling grandiose illusions of ‘prosperity’ through ‘development’ while unleashing rabid communal polarisation. The balloons of development released with great fanfare, however, have been punctured by the ground reality of falling GDP; negative industrial and manufacturing growth; agrarian distress, resulting in declining cultivated land, and the RBI governor’s prognosis that no economic turnaround would be possible without expanding the purchasing power of our own people — our domestic demand.
Inversely proportional to the deteriorating livelihood conditions of our people is the exponential growth of frenzied communal polarisation, expressing itself in myriad forms and attempting to divert growing people’s discontent. The latest are the campaigns of religious conversion. Declaring Christmas as the day of ‘good governance’ is targeting the Christian minority when the Jharkhand elections are on, in the way ‘love jihad’ was used against Muslims in Uttar Pradesh — the worst form of vote-bank politics.
Central to the success of such diabolic campaigns yielding political results is the need to rewrite Indian history. Such rewriting is indispensable for the RSS/BJP not to know how and from where our current civilisation arrived but to justify such current campaigns on the basis of what happened in the past. Distorting history to establish the ‘wrongs of the past’ is the essential prerequisite for justifying the ‘undoing’ of what happened in the past. Hence the communal campaigns of replacing history with mythology and philosophy with theology. Correcting such a ‘distorted past’ are the ‘salesmen’ who purvey developmental dreams as an escape from the present reality, not for changing this reality for the better but projecting an illusory world of ‘Ram Rajya’.
This exercise is an effort to rewrite our syncretic civilisational advance and, instead, to impose a monolithic culture of ‘Hindutva’, which, they claim, was the human essence ‘since these lands existed’. This negates the universally admired reality that the lands which constitute India today have been and should continue to be the churning crucible of civilisational advance.
Among many who documented this rich history, hear what Rabindranath Tagore had to say: “Aryans and non-Aryans, Dravidians and Chinese, Scythians, Huns, Pathans and Moghuls, all have merged and lost themselves in one body.” And, this body is India today.
Four of the six major religious faiths of our people, apart from Christianity and Islam — Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, not to speak of the multiple animistic religions and atheism (as old as Hinduism itself, ie charvaka) — originated in these lands. Hence emerged the collective wisdom that as different rivers through different courses reach the oceans, so do individuals live their faiths.
Swami Vivekananda, relevant to the current debate on conversions, said: “Without the Buddhist revolution what would have delivered the suffering millions of lower classes from the violent tyrannies of the influential higher castes?” (Works, Vol 4, p 462). Further, “Mohammedanism came as a message for the masses ... the first message was equality. There is one religion — love. No more question of race, colour, (or) anything else” (Works, Vol 1, p 483). Every one of us needs to reflect his vision. “I see in my mind’s eye the future perfect India arising out of its chaos and strife, glorious and invincible with Vedanta brain and Islam body” (Works, Vol 6, p 416).
Even the Bhagawat Gita, which the minister of external affairs wants to be declared as our national scripture, says: “Whatever celestial form a devotee seeks to worship with faith, I stabilise the faith of that particular devotee in that particular form” [(Chapter VII (21)].
Such collective wisdom is reflected in our Constitution (Articles 25 & 26), which provides “freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion” and “freedom to manage religious affairs”. Further, the Indian Penal Code (Section 153 A) classifies forcible attempts in the name of religion as a criminal offence. Hence, there is no need for any new law for religious conversions that the Modi government today speaks of. Every Indian irrespective of caste, creed or sex has the freedom to choose his/her religious faith. Any forcible attempt to infringe upon this right is a crime punishable under law.
The RSS/BJP seeks to circumvent this and sharpen communal polarisation to serve their political gains by distorting history and on that basis take a morally high position of “undoing the wrongs of history”. Like, for instance, unless they convince the people that mosques were built by destroying temples, they cannot justify the wanton demolition of the Babri Masjid, etc. The cat is, however, out of the bag when a Lok Sabha BJP MP threatens: “Babri demolition was a show of Hindu unity, don’t stop ghar vapasi” (the current RSS/BJP-sponsored forcible conversion of Muslims and Christians to Hinduism).
Such are the times we live in. Are we to allow these forces to destroy the grandness of India’s civilisational evolution or pursue Swami Vivekananda’s dictum with which he concluded his famous address to the World Parliament of Religions, Chicago, on September 11, 1893: “If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world it is this: … that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character. In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written, in spite of resistance: Help and not Fight, Assimilation and not Destruction, Harmony and Peace and not Dissension.”
This is the essence of the current battle in the Rajya Sabha, and in the country, today. Is there a choice?
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP
The views expressed by the author are personal