Hope is in danger of crumbling that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would rein in the divisive agenda of his militant Hindu-nationalist supporters and allow India to concentrate on the important work of economic reform, and the blame lies squarely with Mr. Modi.
During the last days of its winter session ending on Tuesday, Parliament was unable to deal with important legislative business because of repeated adjournments and an uproar over attempts by Hindu groups to convert Christians and Muslims. The issue has come to a head following a “homecoming” campaign by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad — groups dedicated to transforming India’s secular democracy into a Hindu state — to “reconvert” Christians and Muslims to Hinduism.
In recent weeks, Hindu militants have engineered conversions of Muslims and Christians in Agra and in the states of Gujarat and Kerala. Police are investigating accusations that people have been induced to participate in mass conversion meetings by a combination of intimidation and bribery, including the promise of food ration cards. Attacks on Christians and their places of worship have intensified in recent weeks. One of New Delhi’s biggest churches burned down on Dec. 1 — arson is being blamed — and Christmas carolers were attacked on their way home in the city of Hyderabad on Dec. 12.
More than 80 percent of Indians are Hindus, but Muslims, Christians and Sikhs form important religious minorities with centuries of history in India. Religious pluralism and freedom are protected by India’s Constitution. The issue of religious conversion is contentious in India. Many Dalits, known formerly as untouchables, and other low-caste Hindus and Tribals admit they convert to Islam or Christianity primarily to escape crushing caste prejudice and oppression. The main architect of the Constitution, Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, born a Dalit, famously converted to Buddhism to escape caste-oppression under Hinduism.
As opposition political leaders are demanding, Mr. Modi must break his silence and issue a stern warning to emboldened Hindu militants before their actions turn further progress on economic reform into a sideshow, with the politics and divisiveness occupying center stage.
# # #