Tuesday, March 9, 2004

India: re-election, re-conversion, re-engaging, re-courting.

Date: Tuesday 9 March 2004
Subj: India: re-election, re-conversion, re-engaging, re-courting.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


Please excuse the fact that the quotes in this posting contain as many spelling variations as there are sources!

BJP: SEEKING RE-ELECTION

The BJP has been working hard to present a fresh "shining" image as a minority-friendly, inclusive, tolerant, non-sectarian party. On 14 January 2004 the BBC published an article entitled, "India's New-look Governing Party" where it alleged that the BJP had been "quietly re-inventing itself". The BBC claimed that the BJP had "moved on a long way, shedding its old image and ideology". In fact the BBC specifically mentioned three issues the BJP has supposedly
"put aside" or "shelved": 1) the temple at Ayodhya; 2) the issue of a single uniform civil code; 3) the end to special status for Kashmir. According to the BBC, the BJP is focusing on "the issue of
development".

Behind the scenes however, the BJP is re-converting tribals, re-engaging with Hindu hardliner Dilip Singh Judeo, and re-courting the Hindu nationalist Sangh parivar by promising to adopt the RSS line on Ayodhya, a uniform civil code, abrogation of Article 370 (gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir) and more, in exchange for their support.

The annual all-India general council meeting of the RSS will be held in Jaipur from 12 to 14 March. Strategy for effective coordination between the Sangh parivar bodies and the BJP will be discussed. The full details of that meeting will probably not be made public. However, the degree to which the Sangh parivar supports the BJP's re-election campaign will certainly indicate the degree to which the BJP has promised to activate Hindutva ideology.

RE-CONVERSIONS IN ORISSA: OPERATION GHAR VAPSI

On 4 March 2004, The Telegraph (Calcutta, India) reported, "No money changed hands. No secret camera recorded the ceremony. Only batik-printed orange-hued saris, yellow-coloured shawls and red towels marked the rite of passage of 212 Christian tribals in Jharsuguda district who reconverted to Hinduism this morning."

According to the Telegraph article, it was Hindu hardliner Dilip Singh Judeo who "purified" the more than 100 men, 70 women and 30 children from 53 tribal families, by washing their feet with water from the Ganga to "usher" them into Hinduism.

The ceremony - shuddhikriya havan - at a Hindu temple in Jharsuguda, western Orissa, took two hours. Apart from having their feet washed and receiving saris, shawls imprinted with "Ram", and towels, the converting tribals were also given a meal of rice, dal and vegetables.

The Telegraph reports, "The ceremony, under Operation Ghar Vapsi, was organised by Sangh parivar organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Rushikul Seva Trust, Bharat Vikash Parishad, Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram and the Adivasi Suraksha Samiti."

The Telegraph quotes Dilip Sangh Judeo as saying, "The Christians are alluring the tribals. We oppose them. ... This is their homecoming." The Telegraph comments that Judeo "started his political career with mass reconversion programmes". The Telegraph also quotes a local VHP activist as saying, "So far, 10,000 tribals in the state have been reconverted under the Ghar Vapsi programme." (Link 1)

According to the BBC, "The [reconversion] ceremony was part of the VHP's plan to reconvert 400,000 tribal Christians back to Hinduism.

"Local VHP activist Ashok Sakunia told the BBC that thousands of Hindus were being lured into Christianity by monetary benefits, so they felt compelled to respond.

"The VHP has been joined by fellow Hindu pressure groups Banabasi Kalyan Ashram and Bajarang Dal in an attempt to bring back Christian converts to Hinduism." (Link 2)

According to The Telegraph, "VHP activist Subrat Tripathy, a key person behind today's [4 March] programme, said the district adminis tration had been informed, as the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act mandates."

However, according to the BBC, "Jharsuguda district collector Jyoti Prakash Das said no official permission had been given for the mass conversion, and that he had not been informed of the plans under the provisions of Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967."

RE-ENGAGING DILIP SINGH JUDEO

On 27 February 2003, a WEA RLC News & Analysis posting drew attention to the elevation of Dilip Singh Judeo in the 28 January 2003 BJP cabinet reshuffle. The Hindustan Times (29 Jan 2003) reported that Judeo (Judev) "is wedded to the cause of bringing people back into the Hindu fold", that he "is famed for leading the Ghar Vaapasi (return home) movement" (that actively seeks the return of Christian converts to Hinduism) and that he "vowed to 're-convert' some 300,000 Christians" during 2003. Judeo also sponsored the defence of Dara Singh, the prime accused in the gruesome killings in 1999 of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons in Orissa. Judeo pronounced Singh innocent, and accused Staines of unethical conversions.

After his promotion to BJP cabinet minister, Judeo was caught on film accepting bribes. The BJP maintained and still maintains Judeo's innocence, alleging that he had been framed. They did, however, accept Judeo's resignation in November 2003. On 21 December 2003 the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) registered a case against Judeo under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Regardless of the investigation, Judeo has stated that he is keen to stand as a candidate in any Chhattisgarh seat, and he is confident of a win. The BJP in Orissa state is also keen to have Judeo stand and has recommended to the BJP central government that Judeo be brought back on board.

On 4 March 2004 NDTV reported, "Former BJP leader from Chattisgarh, Dilip Singh Judeo who was sidelined in the party after the cash-on-camera scam, is likely to be rehabilitated by the party. The first signs that Judeo may be given a Lok Sabha ticket came from the BJP state unit. State party in-charge, Lakhiram Aggarwal admitted that the state unit had recommended to the centre that Judeo be allowed to contest from Mahasamund or Jangir in central Chattisgarh. It is a move that also has the backing of Chief Minister Raman Singh." (Link 3)

The BJP is apparently assessing the risks of re-embracing a popular politician who is presently under investigation for corruption. The BJP's decision on what to do regarding Judeo might reveal the degree to which Operation Ghar Vapsi may be an integral part of a new BJP era. Judeo may be extremely popular, yet as Praful Bidwai, a journalist with the Hindustan Times reports (4 March), "Judeo isn't just another corrupt politician; he's a firebrand Christian-hating fanatic."

RE-COURTING THE SANGH PARIVAR

Hindustan Times reports (5 March 2004), "Keen to enlist Sangh parivar cadres for campaigning in the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP has agreed to include the RSS' pet issues in its 'Vision Document'." This decision took place on Friday 5 March during a 90-miinute meeting between BJP and RSS senior leaders, at the home of PM Vajpayee.

RSS senior leaders reportedly "told the BJP leaders that if they wanted the support of the Sangh cadres, the party must reaffirm its commitment to the Hindu cause by including its chief issues in the document".

The BJP has agreed that Law Minister Arun Jaitley, who is drafting the BJP Vision Document, will "hold discussions with leaders of various Sangh-affiliated organisations like the VHP, Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS)", and then "graft" the RSS and Sangh parivar issues into the BJP Vision Document. (Link 4)

ELECTION DATES

Chief election commissioner TS Krishnamurthy has announced India's election dates. The voting will take place over three weeks and occur in four rounds: 20 April, 26 April, 5 May and 10 May. Counting will take place on 13 May. Electronic polling should mean speedy counting, and as such, it is expected that the results will be known the same day.

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Judeo reconverts tribals
By Debabrata Mohanty, 4 March 2004
http://www.telegraphindia.com/1040305/asp/nation/story_2969536.asp

2) Christians convert back to Hinduism
BBC 4 March 2004
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/south_asia/3534071.stm

3) BJP mulls LS ticket for 'tainted' Judeo.
NDTV, 4 March 2004
http://www.ndtv.com

4) RSS cadre power brings temple back in BJP vision
New Delhi, 5 March 2004
http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/181_600417,001300740000.htm