The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!/Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason./It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right./It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight./But I think that the most likely reason of all,/May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.
– How the Grinch stole Christmas
by Dr Suess
During the Lok Sabha election campaign, Narendra Modi, aspiring to be India’s Prime Minister, boasted that the job required a 56-inch chest. Considering that it put him in the league of incredible hulks like Arnold Schwarzenegger (58-inch chest), Hulk Hogan (58 inches), and the Great Khali (63 inches), perhaps he was vying for the wrong job. Being the Prime Minister of India also requires a large heart.
The Grinches who want to steal Christmas by organising a re-conversion of Christians to Hinduism on December 25, or to convert a religious holiday into “Good Governance Day”, may have hearts too small for their boastful ribcages.
It would be erroneous to assume that under the Modi government, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has reoriented its goals. Each time the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) assumes power, the Hindutva ideologues get emboldened. Thus, the attacks on Christians in Surat and in Dangs in Gujarat on Christmas in 1998 under Keshubhai Patel’s rule. And remember that the murder of George Staines and his sons (January 1999) and of a Catholic priest George Kuzhikandam in Mathura while he was asleep in his church (June 2000) took place when Atal Bihari Vajpayee ruled at the Centre. Although law and order is a state subject, the point is that the BJP rule at the Centre has coincided with Hindutva aggression against Christians. The process has begun once again with Modi at the helm.
There is no evidence to suggest that Modi does not share the long-term objectives of the RSS. His silence in Parliament on re-conversion and the flame-grilled drivel served by his partymen suggests that this is not the handiwork of a lunatic fringe. The programme derives from a long-term political objective shared by the RSS family of organisations.
Re-conversion follows from the notion of “Hindu rashtra“, a term coined by V D Savarkar. Those who left the Hindutva fold are sought to be brought back to strengthen the Hindu nation. The concept of Hindutva used to justify its activities by the RSS contains within it the notion of a nation (rashtra), jati (race/caste, an endogamous community), sanskriti (rites, rituals and ceremonies – the “civilisational” practices associated with being a Hindu, which make the land inhabited by them as their Holy Land and are the source of their primordial loyalty to it), religion and language (essentially, Sanskrit, the mother language and the “language of the Gods”). Using these criteria, the adherents of other indigenous religions such as Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Arya Samajists and so on, are encompassed within the definition of “Hindus”, while Christians and Muslims are excluded.
Moreover, conversions to Islam and Christianity are marked out as particularly undesirable because they are “forcible” – Islam was a religion of the sword and Christian missionaries have used economic allurements to convert tribals and socially marginal groups. The focus is especially on Christians because unlike them, Muslims do not proselytise.
The so-called “ghar vapsi” is, therefore, a well thought-out programme with a political purpose. The heat and dust around re-conversion is targeted at developing a national momentum for bringing in an Anti-Conversion Law, especially in all vulnerable states.
Arun Jaitley has thus presented the issue in Parliament as an either/or option: “Is the Opposition willing for a total ban on religious conversions or a ban on forcible conversion? Let them tell us the option.” Refusing to specifically condemn the RSS outfits, he put the onus on those criticising their activities and concluded, “They are not ready for either of these two options.”
It would not be safe to presume that this government would follow the same policy as that of the Vajpayee government. When confronted with systematic violence against Christians, that government had claimed that the attacks were “isolated” local law and order issue – “aberrational” with no pattern to them. The Modi government, however, it appears, is letting the Saffron Grinches go on a rampage so that mounting public anger allows it to come forward with legal provisions to prevent conversion.
The writer is a journalist based in Delhi