Reconversion

Project Hindutva

Print edition : January 09, 2015

A reconversion ceremony in Ved Nagar, Agra, organised by the Dharam Jagran Samiti on December 8. Photo: By Special Arrangement

Celebrating the "homecoming" in Agra. Photo: PTI

The reconversion programmes of the Dharam Jagran Samiti and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad are part of a massive expansion plan of the Sangh Parivar.

BEFORE the botched “reconversion” initiative at Ved Nagar in Agra in Uttar Pradesh led to the cancellation of its grand ghar wapsi programme scheduled for December 25, Dharam Jagran Samiti (DJS) leader Rajeshwar Singh Solanki had spelt out its ambitious plan to create a “pure and constructive society in Bharat”. Speaking to a group of mediapersons in Delhi, Solanki said that the objective of the DJS was to ensure that there were no Christians or Muslims in the country by the end of 2021. He added that this did not mean that all Christians and Muslims would be sent out of the country. “But they have to understand that they were originally Hindus and, keeping that in mind, adhere to Hindu values and way of life.”

Solanki’s comment was supplemented by Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Praveen Togadia at different functions in Ahmedabad and Mumbai. His contention was not just that all Christians and Muslims of India were originally Hindus but also that Hindus inhabited large parts of the rest of the world. In Togadia’s opinion, Arabia, Africa and Europe were Hindu areas, and the number of Hindus once stood at 700 crore. Reeling out more statistics, he claimed that this population had now shrunk to 100 crore.

Togadia said there was a time when Hindus accounted for 30 per cent of the population in Bangladesh, which was just 8 per cent now. “In Pakistan, the number of Hindus has come down to 1 per cent from 10 per cent. This process has got cemented in Kashmir too and is spreading in States such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala. It is the duty of patriotic Hindus to unleash efforts to stop this process,” he said.

According to many leaders and activists of the DJS and the VHP, the views expressed by Solanki and Togadia have always been part of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-led Sangh Parivar’s ideological perspective, but the period after June 2014 has been designated organisationally as “vistaar ka samay”, or the period of expansion. These activists themselves say the organisational initiative at this juncture is inspired by the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power at the Centre under Narendra Modi.

Larger scheme

There are several other signals to show that the reconversion exercises of the DJS and the VHP are part of a larger scheme by the RSS and its affiliates in the Sangh Parivar. The Mumbai conference, in which Togadia held forth on the 700-crore Hindu population of the world, was attended, among others, by RSS sahkaryavah (joint general secretary) Dattatreya Hosabale and senior VHP leader Ashok Singhal.

Sangh Parivar insiders say that the “vistaar ka samay” concept was finalised at a meeting organised under the stewardship of the RSS. This meeting, held in Nagpur between November 7 and 9, was attended by over 1,200 Sangh Parivar activists. Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat, sarkaryawah Bhaiyaji Joshi and sah-sarkaryawah Krishna Gopal led the discussions. A special plan for “Dharam Jagran” (religious awakening) was formulated here. A special team of 58 RSS pracharaks was created with senior RSS leader Mukund Rao Panshikar as its convener to coordinate and oversee activities on this front.

Sangh Parivar insiders say that the conclave of 2,200 sants and mahants in Vaishali in Bihar from December 13 to 15 and the ghar wapsi programme for 4,000 people that was scheduled to be held in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, on December 25 were considered to be an inauguration of sorts of the Dharam Jagran initiative. Even as the Vaishali meeting went according to plan, the Aligarh programme had to be cancelled following the controversy generated by the reconversion initiative in Agra (story on page 23).

However, DJS leaders, including Solanki, assert that the plans formulated for 2015 are on course. One of the main programmes for 2015 is a massive conclave scheduled to be held in August in Nashik, Maharashtra. Plans are on to bring together from across the country over 50,000 persons who have “come back home”. These persons would take a holy dip in the Godavari at the time of the Kumbh Mela in Nashik.

Sangh Parivar insiders point out that the DJS has been active across the country, particularly in the northern and western regions, over the past 15 years and has “brought back home” approximately four lakh families. “In Uttar Pradesh alone, over one lakh people have returned to the fold in the past five years. A large number of Muslims in Beawar district of Rajasthan and thousands of Christians in Solapur in Maharashtra have returned home,” Solanki told the group of journalists in Delhi. DJS activists say that though the activities of the organisation had been reported off and on in the media all these years, there has been an increased focus on it in the past six months for obvious reasons.

According to Solanki, in the past one and a half decades, the organisation’s functioning depended in subtle ways on the region and the target group. He stated that the DJS and associate organisations adopted different strategies in different States and had over 200 specialised projects on this front. While the DJS leader refused to explain the nuances of these specialised projects, other activists involved in these operations told Frontline that these were essentially meant to address caste issues that came up while reconverting from Islam or Christianity.

“Those who return home are not accepted easily by the existing leaders of different Hindu communities. About five years ago, a whole village of Thakur Muslims who wanted to come back were literally prevented by the Thakur leaders of Saharanpur [Uttar Pradesh]. So, the DJS has special task forces to convince community leaders. This is also part of the awareness programme, and the targeted communities include upper castes such as Rajput and Brahmins, Other Backward Classes like Yadav, Kurmi and Lodh, and most backward and Dalit communities such as Valmiki, Meena, Meo and Nat,” said the DJS leader.

The DJS has also admitted to a financial component in the reconversion programmes. According to a fundraising pamphlet circulated by the DJS in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the organisation requires Rs.1 lakh to convert a Muslim and Rs.3 lakh to convert a Christian. The difference apparently is because the Christian community has better financial support from the Church and related organisations than the Muslim community. Whatever the merit of this argument, there is little doubt that despite claims to the contrary, the DJS follows the allurement path that it accuses Christian missionaries and Islamist jehadists of practising.

Funds and the U.S. connection

The DJS and its associates raise funds locally and internationally. The association between the DJS and the United States-based International Development Relief Fund (IDRF) is well recorded, especially in relation to its activities in Bihar and Jharkhand. Several DJS activists told Frontline that new funding avenues have been opened through organisations such as the Hindu Unity Front, which has units in the U.S., the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe. Organisations such as the Overseas Friends of the BJP and the VHP’s international units also support the DJS. This funding has become more intensive after the formation of the Modi government.

At the field level, the DJS works closely with Sangh Parivar affiliates such as the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, the Ekal Vidyalaya, the Sewa Bharati, the Vivekananda Kendra, the Bharat Kalyan Parishad and the Friends of Tribal Society, some of which have been found responsible for the forced conversions of tribal Christians in Odisha and Madhya Pradesh.

Of course, the DJS is not overtly seen in the company of the BJP, but the two organisations often converge on a thematic point. The DJS initiates reconversions, and when a controversy crops up it calls for the banning of all conversions. At this juncture, the BJP leaders too actively advocate this argument. This phenomenon was witnessed several times in the last decade. It came to the fore again in the wake of the Agra reconversion controversy.

According to DJS activists, the most important qualitative difference in their efforts now is the focus on Muslims for reconversions. “There is little doubt that there would be greater logistical and organisational assistance when we have a friendly government. Now it is a friendly government with greater confidence because of the majority it has. But qualitatively, there is a new twist. Throughout the last 15 years of the DJS, the focus was primarily on Christian ghar wapsi. But now there is an enhanced emphasis on getting Muslims to come back home,” said a Meerut-based DJS activist.

He and many other Sangh Parivar associates are emphatic that the project will continue with the new focus despite the setback caused by the Agra controversy and the cancellation of the Aligarh event. As a number of them based out of Delh, Agra and Aligarh signify, it is just one step backward to take many steps forward.

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