Agra reconversion: What RSS isn't telling us
Is this what Narendra Modi meant when he said he would implement the Gujarat model across India?
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The "ghar vapasi" or reconversion of 57 Muslim families in Uttar Pradesh might have backfired on the RSS-affiliated outfit Dharmjagran Samiti, with the families claiming that they were misled into attending the function. But the incident raises three important questions. First, does what the Dharmjagran Samiti did constitute an offence? Second, is this an isolated attempt by a fringe organisation or is it part of a larger Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh effort to "bring back" people into the Hindu fold? Third, has Narendra Modi's ascent to power provided a fillip to such "reconversion" efforts?
The incident itself seems reasonably clear: These 57 Muslim families, most of them Bengali-speaking, lived at the Madhunagar slum in Agra. As is the case with many slum-dwellers in the country, they had no form of official identification. According to one of them, the Dharmjagran cadres invited them to an event, promising that they would make their BPL cards, Aadhaar cards and voter ID cards. They were asked to wear skull caps, which deflates the claim that the Muslims knew what function they were attending. If the version provided by the Muslim families is correct, this is a case of religious conversion by fraudulent means, which is an offence.
The second question, pertaining to the RSS's involvement, is also rather clear if one looks at the evidence. Reacting to the attacks by opposition parties, minister of state for parliamentary affairs and minority affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi denied any involvement by the RSS in the Agra incident. He went on to stress that the "RSS was the ideological mentor of the ruling BJP". The Dharmjagran Samiti's own version of the story contradicts Naqvi's claim. According to the outfit's Facebook page, "due to the efforts of the Dharmjagran Samiti and Bajrang Dal workers, 37 Muslim families who work as scrap dealers embraced Hinduism in a ceremony. This ceremony was organised by the Dharmjagran Samiti (a project of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and Bajrang Dal." So the Dharmjagran Samiti is admitting that it is a project of the RSS. It is also admitting that the Bajrang Dal, which is an integral part of the Sangh Parivar, was involved in the event. So if, as Naqvi claims, the RSS wasn't involved in the fraudulent conversion, he should advise his party's ideological mentor to initiate legal proceedings against the Dharmjagran Samiti. And if indeed the Sangh was involved in the act, then he should let the Uttar Pradesh government initiate proceedings against the Samiti and, if necessary, the Sangh itself.
The third question, on whether these attempts at reconversion increased after Narendra Modi's election as the Prime Minister of India, is more complex. We can find clues to this by examining Modi's tenure as the chief minister of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014. Between February 11 and 13 in 2006, the RSS and its affiliated organisations like the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad and the Hindu Jagran Manch organised a Shabri Kumbh in the tribal-dominated Dang district of Gujarat. According to reports, five lakh tribals were estimated to have attended the event which was an attempt at bringing the tribals back into the Hindu fold. The reports further state that the word given for this effort was, unsurprisingly, ghar vapasi. The RSS's response to the allegations leveled by civil society organisations in 2006, actually vindicates the ghar vapasi narrative. "Tribals are Hindus....There is no question of their conversion to Hinduism. Tribals follow a particular mode of worship, which is integral to the Hindu way of life," RSS spokesperson Ram Madhav had said. He further alleged that the opposition to Shabri Kumbh is an attempt to break the unity of Hindus in India. Ram Madhav is a powerful general secretary of the BJP today and a key pointsman of PM Narendra Modi.
It isn't the Shabri Kumbh event that is worrying. What is worrying is the fact that it had the complete support of the Gujarat government. The district collector of Dangs had allegedly given the tribals compact discs of Shabri Kumbh, which also contained material inciting hatred against Christians. But leave aside the district administration, the event was attended by Modi, then into his fifth year as chief minister of Gujarat and his Madhya Pradesh counterpart Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Also present at the event was Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, who is now an accused in the 2008 Malegaon blasts. The main organiser of the event was none other than Swami Aseemanand, the alleged mastermind of the Malegaon and Mecca Masjid blasts.
Modi's presence at the 2006 Shabri Kumbh and the role of his administration in promoting the event indicates that the Sangh's ghar vapasi efforts have his complete blessings. Therefore his ascent to the prime ministership has not only emboldened the RSS and its affiliates in their conversion efforts, it has also given the BJP's official backing to these efforts at a national level.
The BJP's support has been made amply clear by Yogi Adityanath's declared programme on Christmas Day in which 4,000 Christian and 1,000 Muslim families will be converted into Hinduism in Aligarh.
Perhaps this is what Modi meant when he said he will implement the Gujarat model across India.