Curbs on Missionaries of Charity, attack on minorities ahead of polls

That there is a rising tide of grievances that will impact the BJP’s performance is admitted by party insiders.

BJP
A different social compact, of anti-BJP forces, is emerging around a more inclusive and less divisive identity.

Renewals, as a mechanism of regulation to prevent misuse, are a measure of caution. To use the Foreign Contribution Regulation (Rules) Act to challenge the credibility of the Missionaries of Charity, among 5,000 other NGOs that receive donations from overseas or in foreign currencies, and then launch a tirade against Nobel Laureate and saint Mother Teresa is an entirely different matter.

It is a move by the home ministry of the Modi regime to cast aspersions on an institution, based on unspecified “adverse inputs”. Whatever else the inputs may have been, there is a possibility that the old chestnut of the allegations of conversion to Christianity could well be one of the adverse reasons for denying renewal of access to FCRA accounts of the Missionaries of Charity.

The bile spewed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s Panchajanya – that revisits the credibility of Mother Teresa and her work among the “poorest of the poor” and the “lowest of the low” as a political construct that was rewarded with a Bharat Ratna because of the “necessities of the so-called secular politics of India” – suggests that in so far as the Sangh Parivar is concerned, which includes the RSS on the one hand and the Bharatiya Janata Party on the other, the Missionaries of Charity and its founder are equally culpable in diddling the public.

Circumstantial as it may be, it is difficult to ignore that Gujarat Police, earlier in December, charged the Missionaries of Charity with forcible conversion under the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act.

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The Gujarat High Court’s adjournment, for the third time, of the anticipatory bail plea made by nuns of the Missionaries of Charity and its direction to the police to “clarify” the charges under Sections three and four of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, which had earlier been struck down by the court, point to an unsatisfactory investigation on how Hindu sentiments were hurt, forcible conversions were done and why it is an offence to feed young girls in a shelter home in Vadodara, non-vegetarian food.

A new lease of life has been given to the narrative of otherness by establishing a connection between Christianity, conversion, marriage and food that is part of the playbook of fervid right-wing Hindutva’s identity politics.

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The fundamental right to freedom of worship has been assaulted by vigilantes of the Hindutva brigade including the Bajrang Dal through a series of obviously planned attacks on Christian congregations and churches across India, in Uttar Pradesh’s Agra, in Silchar in Assam, in Karnataka, in Jharkhand, in Uttarakhand, through all of December. The states where the attacks have happened are curiously all headed by Bharatiya Janata Party governments. The Gujarat incident is part of the same bag.

If not identical, but a similar pattern of attacks designed to escalate tensions between Hindus and Muslims were enacted in Haryana, starting with Gurugram, where Muslims were told that Friday prayers would not be permitted in open spaces that had previously been allocated for the purpose.

Charging the Muslims with “land jihad,” vigilantes intervened during the prayers. Backed by Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s announcement that the 2018 order would be renegotiated, the exercise in depriving Muslims of places where they could enjoy the freedom of worship is part of the narrative of Hindus taking back what was usurped by Muslims, as the Other or outsiders.

The denial of freedom of worship was provocative. By not retaliating, the attacked minorities have shown remarkable restraint against the Hindutva brigade. The attacks have been condemned by the political opposition and religious organisations; violence has not been countered by violence, for now. A different social compact, of anti-BJP forces, is emerging around a more inclusive and less divisive identity.

For the BJP, the restrained reaction of the minorities could not have been a welcome response. To galvanise the majority into mobilising in support of the lotus symbol, as citizens head for the polling booths in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, is an urgent requirement given the muted response of voters surveyed by various opinion poll organisations. It points to a sluggish enthusiasm, for the incumbent regime headed by BJP’s poster boy Yogi Adityanath and the popular icon, Narendra Modi.

The arduous endeavours of the RSS to mobilise Muslim support, including through the Muslim Rashtriya Manch, by organising events where Muslim leaders have applauded the BJP government’s move to raise the legal age for marriage are signs that the party is working to rope in support from a community that it has aggressively targeted as the outsider and the Other. The BJP’s efforts to actively woo Muslim voters by setting up networks of contacts in key constituencies in UP is a giveaway of a BJP anxious about its vote share in UP.

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There are reasons why this anxiety is real. There are reasons also why this anxiety is puzzling. The dire straits of the working population and the accumulation of discontent in sections of numerically large voters – farmers, traders, retailers, gig economy, service sector workers, contract labour – before the pandemic and even now is concerning for the BJP, as it goes to the polls in UP, Goa, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Punjab.

No one, barring the opposition, principally Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party, is willing to risk suggesting that there will be an election upset in UP, preventing the BJP from returning to power.

The problem, however, is the pressure of expectations within the BJP to prove that it is invincible and as popular now as it was in 2019. Unrealistic as this is – because anti-incumbency has built up as much against the Centre as it has against BJP regimes, including in UP – in the states, the party is working overtime to prove itself as the only viable option by tacitly approving calls to unleash violence at the two recent Dharam Sansads in Haridwar and Raipur that targeted the Muslim minority.

That there is a rising tide of grievances that will impact the BJP’s performance is admitted by party insiders. The uncertainty and anxiety within the BJP has grown because voters may not be divided entirely on expected lines of communal identities and caste.

The new solidarities of new identities – farmers, working poor – have demonstrated that old divisions have been submerged in forging a different identity that is inclusive, as the mahapanchayats have revealed where caste and community differences have been consolidated into a fraternity identity of farmers.

While the BJP is not challenging these new inclusive fraternities, it is trying to steer carefully over ground that has suddenly acquired new and untested features that could cause the party to stumble.

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