Distancing the government from the controversial religious conversions, parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu said people were free to convert their religion and the government had no role in either conversions or re-conversions.
“If people want to convert, then they can convert. That right is there in the Constitution. The party has nothing to do with it. Individuals are taking the programme,” Naidu told Lok Sabha.
Naidu’s statement on religious conversions came after Opposition parties – that have stalled proceedings in the Rajya Sabha for a week – tried to block proceedings in the Lok Sabha too, demanding that Prime Minister Narendra Modi speak in the House on the issue.
The Centre made it clear that if someone was violating the law, it was for the state – and not the Centre – to take action.
“If somebody violates the law either in Uttar Pradesh or in Gujarat or in Kerala or in Andhra Pradesh or in any other state, the law is very clear and it will take its own course,” the minister said.
But Opposition MPs, including those from the Congress, Trinamool Congress and the Left, who trooped into the Well of the House, weren’t satisfied.
Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge took digs at Naidu, wondering if he had a say in the “Modi government”. Arguing for the PM’s statement, he said "only his writ runs in the country" as he is the "commanding authority" and "holds the master key".
Naidu brushed aside this claim, pointing that Modi was the leader but decisions were taken collectively. “We have equal powers with the Prime Minister,” he said, accusing the Opposition of trying to make it a political issue.
When Kharge referred to Naidu's earlier comment that he was proud of the RSS background, the minister hit back saying: "You are proud of your parivar and we are proud of our parivar.”
The Rajya Sabha saw three adjournments before deputy chairman PJ Kurien called it a day. Before that, the Upper House unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the bail granted to Mumbai attack mastermind Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi and asked Pakistan to ensure that no perpetrator of any terrorist activity went unpunished. The House also urged the Government of India "to take appropriate steps in its power, including through its relations with other countries, to persuade Pakistan to bring this matter to a logical conclusion."