The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Conversions put Modi in a spot

Ahmedabad, June 5: Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s law banning conversions will be tested on June 15, when the Vishwa Boudh Sangh is holds a mass conversion programme.

As many as 55,000 Dalits have said in writing that they will voluntarily convert to Buddhism in Vadodara on that day. According to the law banning forced conversions, passed less than two months ago, anyone willing to convert is required to seek permission from the district collector.

The BJP initially tried to play down the mass conversion and the VHP followed suit, saying it had no objection if Dalits turned Buddhists.

But the government and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad are becoming nervous now that conversions are becoming popular, with Dalits in many towns embracing Buddhism.

Contradicting state VHP leaders, Acharya Giriraj Kishore, the national vice-president of the parishad, dubbed the mass conversion plan as “politically motivated’’ and “a conspiracy hatched by Christian missionaries’’.

Taking a cue from Kishore, state VHP joint general secretary Kaushik Mehta, who had earlier welcomed the conversion, said “we are not opposed to Dalits becoming Buddhists’’ but added, “it does not mean that the Boudh Sangh has got the licence to insult Hindus’’.

The Modi government is in denial. It has responded to the conversions by saying “there is no such move afoot”.

Home minister Amit Shah denied that the Boudh Sangh was planning a mass conversion, saying it had not sought permission for such a programme.

He said this hours after the Sangh general secretary, Bhante Sanghpriya, met Vadodara collector Bhagesh Jha and new police commissioner Sudhir Sinha on Tuesday, seeking permission for conversions.

Asked if permission would be granted, Shah said: “I do not want to reply to such hypothetical questions.’’

Clearly, the government is caught in a dilemma and wants to buy time before deciding whether or not to allow the conversions.

Jha told Sanghpriya that he could not deny him permission but nor could he allow him to go ahead. The collector asked Sanghpriya to meet Sinha, who in turn told him to seek permission from municipal authorities to ensure police presence at the programme.

Jha and Sinha said they had received a formal request from the Sangh, but had not taken a decision. “We are still examining it,’’ they said.

If the authorities wanted to make things difficult for Sanghpriya, they have not succeeded. The Sangh general secretary, like the Dalits wishing to be converted, is firm in his resolve. “We will go ahead come what may. If permission is not granted, we will hold the programme in a private place ,’’ Sanghpriya said.

Responding to Kishore’s remarks, the general secretary said: “He seems to have lost his mental balance. He has no business to cast aspersions. Unlike him, we have no political ambitions; unlike him, we are not the stooge of any political party.’’

A confrontation seems to be in the offing, with the VHP regarding the conversions as an affront.

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