Kerala ghar wapsi: Is Narendra Modi upset at RSS or is he turning a blind eye?

The 'reconversion' row along with controversial remarks made by various BJP leaders, as well as the extended Sangh Parivaar, over the last month have cast a long shadow over Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'sabka sath, sabka vikas' agenda. What remains unclear, however, is what the PM himself makes of this derailing of his development discourse.

 Kerala ghar wapsi: Is Narendra Modi upset at RSS or is he turning a blind eye?

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. PTI

When his own Minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti asked Delhi voters not to elect Haramzadas to power, Modi was forced by the Opposition to'strongly condemn' the remarks made by his Minister of State.

"You are aware that the same day the comments were made, my party had a Parliamentary Board meeting... at the meeting I disapproved of such remarks in very strong terms. I had also said that we should be careful about such things. Even in the heat of election campaigning we should be careful about such remarks. I made this clear with my party MPs even before the House brought up the issue," he told both Houses of Parliament.

But he has said literally nothing about 'reconversion' despite the political uproar it has stoked.

What we've seen instead is a see-saw pattern play itself out in the media. One day will bring reports of a Modi furious at the saffron fringe of his party, which will be almost immediately undercut by a spate of reports on fresh 'reconversions.'

Take for instance, the row that was sparked by the Agra ghar wapsi where Bangladeshi migrants were targeted by an RSS outfit Dharm Jagran Manchand the Bajrang Dal. It lead to tumultuous scenes in Parliament which were then followed by news reports that Prime Minister Modi chastised all BJP MPs and reminded them that the government should concentrate on the development agenda and not stray off message through issues like this. Following the Prime Minister's diktat, Hindustan Times said, the Manch cancelled the conversion programme that was scheduled to take place in Aligarh on 25 December. "Yes we have decided to postpone the ‘ghar-wapsi’ programme slated for this month. I was told by competent authorities in the RSS that the programme should be put on hold for now," Manch leader Rajeshwar Singh told HT.

But come Monday morning, fresh reports have Parivar leaders scoffing the suggestion that there has been any slowing down of the reconversion bandwagon. "DJSS insiders laugh at the suggestion that the Aligarh “controversy” made them pause. Instead, they say, the only thing that went wrong in Aligarh was that DJSS convenor for western Uttar Pradesh Rajeshwar Singh, also an RSS pracharak, was too outspoken," The Indian Express reports.

And this after weekend reports in the Marathi press that Modi is enraged at the Sangh's Hindutva antics that he has threatened to quit.

While the Maharashtra Times reported on Saturday that the Prime Minister had threatened to quit if Hindutva forces do not stop making controversial remarks and derail the government's development agenda, the RSS chief himself, in statements made on Sunday, said he would march ahead to establish a Hindu state.

"Since the last two days, there have been futile discussions between Sangh Parivar and BJP leaders. Between the different organisations within the Sangh Parivar and its leaders, there seems to be a struggle to take up controversial issues. But after Modi expressed displeasure over such issues, the Sangh has decided to act strictly against such leaders and organisations," Maharashtra Times reported.

That was Saturday, and then come Sunday, here is what RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had to say at a VHP rally in West Bengal: "We are trying to create a strong Hindu society. Those who strayed, were lured away. They were looted from us. The world knows. Ab agar mera maal wapas aata hain, toh kaunsi badi baat hai? (If now we are taking back our property, then what's the big deal?)."

The VHP has further claimed to have brought back into the Hindu fold 6 lakh people in Madhya Pradesh on Sunday. In Kerala, a fresh reconversion row broke out with the news that at least 30 Dalit Christians from eight families were "reconverted" at a function at Alappuzha.

If Kerala is an unlikely environment for reconversion, there comes news of the Sangh's ambitions in Punjab, where, according to this Indian Express report, over 8,000 people were reconverted to Hinduism with about 3,500 in the last year alone. Numbers that are unlikely to make NDA ally the Shiromani Akali Dal happy.

The SAD sees Dalit Christians as a vote bank, and has been wooing them assiduously. At a function in Gurdaspur on Thursday, Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal announced “Masihi bhawans” for Christians in all districts, and assured them that the “forcible conversions” that are happening in other parts of the country would not be permitted in Punjab, the report states.

But the risk of political fallout has done little to dim the enthusiasm of Sanghis.  VHP's international president Pravin Togadia, speaking to TOI, tried to play off the recent spate of reconversions as business as usual, saying, "Whatever activity is being highlighted now is being done since decades. There is nothing new. VHP has not issued any instruction to its cadres to carry out any activity or to discontinue it."

Meanwhile, the Modi sarkar has continues to carefully parse its position, giving little indication of its own take on ghar wapsi. Party chief Amit Shah, who was in Chennai  over the weekend, said the BJP was against 'forced conversions'.

"BJP is clear about its stand on compulsory conversions. Parliamentary affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu has said in Parliament that the government is ready to bring in a law against compulsory conversions. Are the so called secular parties ready to support it?" Shah asked, further adding that no one could derail the party (government) from its development agenda.

But none of this states whether the Modi sarkar approves of reconversions or not -- especially since the Sangh is careful to make a distinction between conversions to Christianity or Islam and the 'homecoming' to Hinduism.

A number of political observers claim that the  larger game-plan of the BJP government and the RSS is to have an anti-conversion bill in the country, much like the one in Modi's home-state of Gujarat. In such a case, one can read the Modi sarkar's statements as a wink-nudge policy aimed at political insulation even as it turns a benevolent blind eye to its saffron base. The other explanation is that Modi is unable to rein in the RSS or its cohorts, much as he could not in the early days of his administration in Gujarat.

Updated Date: Dec 22, 2014 11:50:15 IST