The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Religious freedom doesn't provide the freedom to belittle and denigrate other religious faiths

October 06, 2008

Press Statement by Shri M Venkaiah Naidu, Former President, BJP on Orisssa and Karnataka

"Violence by Itself is Unacceptable in Any Form. But so
is Selective Condemnation without going into the complete facts. The
BJP's Response to the current situation in Karnataka and Orissa"


We unequivocally condemn acts of violence and the guilty must be punished. There is no place for vandalism and violence in our democratic society. However, neither can we accept a selective condemnation of any episode without honestly examining the complete socio-political and economic realities and facts behind the situation.

The incidents in both Orissa and Karnataka are the outcome of certain realities and actions. And anyone who seeks to speak about them must first apprise themselves about the complete truth and happenings in Karnataka and Orissa before making adversary comments.

We clearly distinguish between the campaign against Christians and the campaign against conversions. If there is any campaign against Christians, one must condemn it. But if there is campaign against conversion, the country must debate it. Religious freedom doesn't provide the freedom to belittle and denigrate other religious faiths.

Background to the situation in Karnataka and Orissa

It is a well known fact that New Life, an evangelical organization in Karnataka, had continuously been denigrating the revered Hindu Gods and Goddesses in their publications that were widely circulated and in the process hurt the sentiments of thousands of Hindus. In its publication, Satya Darshini, New Life made highly denigrating remarks against Lord Krishna, Lord Rama and the Trinity of Hinduism.

Similarly, the Orissa episode has to be viewed in its totality. The Kandhas are a Scheduled Tribe whereas the 'Panas' are a Scheduled Caste. Both are entitled to reservation benefits under the Constitution. However, as and when large number of the Panas got converted to Christianity, their benefits for reservation ceased. However, they wanted the continuance of reservations benefits even after their conversion to Christianity and so started demanding ST status for their community. This was not acceptable to the Kandhas, who want to maintain their traditional faith and have also been resisting conversions.

In addition to this, there are other aspects to the social conflict between the Panas and Kandhas. The Panas with improved economic status gradually through various means started acquiring land belonging to Kandhas. This is leading to socio-economic tensions between the two communities since the Kandhas perceive that they are getting displaced from the traditional land by means of fraud. grab a share of reservation from the Kandhas. The pseudo-secular parties, including the Congress, have supported the cause of the Panas especially for reservation benefits.

And the continuing process of conversions in the area, have only added fuel to the fire. In substance, the clash between the Panas and Kandhas it is a socio-economic issue especially over land rights coupled with issue of organized conversions.

It must also be recalled that in 1994, clashes had occurred between the Kandhas and the Panas. But ignoring the complete picture and its various aspects, the Congress and other pseudo-secular parties are trying to politicize the issue for short sighted political gain.

Swami Lakshmanananda, who actively propagated against conversions and opposed the evangelists, became their target. He stood by the Kandhas and was successfully running schools and satsangs and also undertook various developmental activities to improve their socio-economic status. His supporters feel, in due course, he became a road block for the activities of the evangelists and hence suspect their hand behind his brutal murder. It is worth noting that he had complained earlier of receiving threats to his life and also to close down his activities against conversion.

While apparently it is evident from their own statements that the Maoists are in league with the missionaries, one cannot ignore the possibility of such statements also being a diversionary tactic or even an attempt to cover up the truth.

Long Term Solution to the Problem and It's Unnecessary Politicization by Psuedo-Secularists

Unless the core issue of land alienation and the issue of organized conversions is not addressed in its totality, the situation in Orissa cannot be expected to improve. Treating only the symptom is not a solution for the long term resolution of the basic cause of conflict. And the proper solution is initiate dialogue between the two communities and also the government should take steps to release the
large tracts of land that are being grabbed by fraudulent means. To ease social unrest, the killers of Swami Lakshmananda and his associates must also be punished at the earliest. The government must also enquire and cancel the benefits of reservation that have been accrued by presenting bogus certificates.


It is unfortunate that some pseudo-secularists sitting in Delhi and with a Mcaulay mindset, without seeing or without knowing what is happening in Orissa are adding fuel to the fire by blowing the issue out of proportion and in the process spoiling the name of our own country. They always adapt to selective condemnation. They are silent on Godhra and violent on subsequent happenings. They are silent on the killing of Swami Lakshmananda and violent on subsequent retaliatory incidents.

If some one says that I convert people of particular faith in large number and change the religious demography of India, should we not take it seriously? Should we not debate it and take necessary steps? And simultaneously, one cannot ignore the reality and role of active funding for the purpose of conversions from various foreign and international sources. This is an area that has neither been properly regulated or debated. Conversion of faith by an individual can be acceptable but treating conversions as an organizational target with funding linked to it, is completely unacceptable on account of its socio-political and economic ramifications.

The UPA government at the centre instead of helping both state governments in Orissa and Karnataka to deal with the problem in its totality and in the process end social, ethnic conflicts and tension that are arising also on account of organized conversion activities, is taking a narrow view and adding fuel to the fire for short sighted political mileage. Moreover, some of the constituents of the UPA are making irresponsible statements and creating further social unrest on account of their provocative statements.

The strategy of the UPA is now clear. This combination of opportunistic, corrupt, castiest and communal forces has been under attack for its soft attitude and approach towards the internal security and terrorism in general and terrorists in particular. Under immense pressure from some quarters of the public for banning SIMI, HUJI, and other fundamentalist organizations, who have unleashed their agenda to wreck havoc in the country, the UPA is now trying to equate the activities of these anti-national terrorists with that of organizations who are sympathetic to the Hindu cause.

Situation in Assam and Double Standards of the Congress Party

The UPA is also trying to divert the attention of the public from its failures. The Congress seems to have forgotten its own record and what all has happened during its tenure in different parts of country. When hundreds of people were killed, harassed, attacked and are continuing even today in Assam, a Congress ruled state and represented by the Prime Ministers himself, the centre has not yet even considered issuing an advisory under Article 355 to the Assam State Government, forget about using Article 356. This is a critical issue since according to news reports some 65,000 people have been rendered homeless in the current spate of violence.

The state sponsored acts of violence in Singur and Nadigram of West Bengal are nothing short of a national shame. Thousands of people were uprooted and thrown out of their houses. Many were murdered by the goons of the ruling party. There were serious charges of looting and rapes, which were even confirmed even by the CBI. Yet, the centre chose to remain a mute spectator and never considered warning the state government under Article 355 since it was dependent on the CPM for support.

Before someone levies charges against the Karnataka and Orissa governments for their alleged failures, should not they also speak about the dubious role of this Congress led UPA government at the centre? How can what has happened in West Bengal and what continues to happen in Assam coupled with the duplicitous approach of the central government be ignored?

Even as the BJP unequivocally condemns and does not support any act of violence, the party is also of the clear view that any organization indulging in any form of hate campaigns should be dealt with firmly. Otherwise, these conflicts are likely to reoccur in different parts of the country because some organizations have an agenda of making India into their competitive playground for undertaking large scale conversions to their religious faith.

The BJP warns the UPA government at the centre not to engage in Constitutional Adventurism by seeking to misuse and apply Article 356 on Orissa. The BJP is confident that if the government misuses the Article 356 against popularly elected state governments then it will have disastrous consequences for the Congress party and its supporters within the UPA.

Shyam Jaju

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