Since it is the obligation of the parliamentary opposition to oppose, the furore over "Hindu conversions" is understandable. Less understandable may be the complete disruption of the Rajya Sabha, where the NDA Government does not command a majority, and the derailment of important economic legislation. However, recent history has demonstrated that confrontational politics has become the norm for settling political scores. The BJP played that game when it was in opposition for 10 years and the Congress is emulating that dubious example, even if it involves hiding behind the coat-tails of the Trinamool Congress and Left.
That the opposition would spare no opportunity to derail the Narendra Modi government's progress was well known. What is perplexing many people is the larger question: why did the BJP present the opportunity such an opening in the first place?
Prime Minister Modi made his extreme dissatisfaction with the loose talk of some ministers and backbench MPs quite explicit in his speech to the BJP parliamentary party on December 16. It is understood that the call for restraint also went out to the wider Sangh Parivaar at the same time. Despite this, a section of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has persisted with its more controversial programmes.
The reasons for this mismatch between the desires of the government and the activities of some wings of the Parivaar necessitate explanations. Modi is today the acknowledged leader of the wider Parivaar, equalling RSS chief Mohan Rao Bhagwat in stature. Why, it is being asked, is he unable to control the hotheads?
For a start, different wings of the wider Hindu parivar operate on the principle of functional autonomy. There may be occasions when the entire family comes together in pursuance of a common objective but on other occasions each unit pursue their autonomous agendas. The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, for example, has expressed its opposition to the government's reform initiatives in labour, coal and insurance. Likewise, the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch can be expected to be critical of many facets of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley's Budget in 2015.
For the VHP, 'ghar vapsi' or the 'homecoming' of erstwhile Hindus is an article of faith. The programme, initially popularised by the late Dilip Singh Judeo in Chhattisgarh, enjoys the backing of a large number of Hindu organisations and religious gurus. Its champions don't see it as 'religious conversion' but an attempt to restore cultural inheritance to individuals and communities who 'strayed' from the ways of their ancestors. This programme is also linked to the demand for a national anti-conversion law that is backed by Hindu organisations in southern India where Christian missionaries have made a mark.
For the moment, the VHP leadership may have shelved plans to launch 'ghar vapsi' programmes all over India but the initiative will never be totally abandoned. The retreat is merely tactical and in response to pressures from the Modi government to not do anything to unsettle its economic agenda.
In practice, not even the RSS can control all the hotheads. The past two decades have seen the birth of many organisations that have either broken away from the Sangh parivar or have grown independently to wage militant battles on behalf of Hindus. These groups are highly motivated, ideologically driven and often see the BJP (and even the RSS) as an impediment to the self-realisation of India's Hindus. These are also the groups that can easily be manipulated by the BJP's political opponents.
There is also a media environment that is conducive to the fringe. It simply requires some 50 individuals, a controversial cause and a few TV cameras to give otherwise irrelevant people notoriety, publicity and even secure political impact. The Hindu Mahasabha, for example, is today merely a letterhead that can be used or misused by anyone. Yet, an outrageous demand by one of its more obscure functionaries to instal a bust of Nathuram Godse made the front pages of many newspapers and was the subject of TV talk shows.
The BJP and the Modi Government will have to discover more effective ways of dealing with this Hindu fringe if the disruptions of the Winter session of Parliament isn't going to be carried over into the Budget session.
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