Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has appeared to pussyfoot around questions on anti-conversion laws, raising eyebrows against the backdrop of allegations that he had largely been a bystander during the communal riots in the capital in 2020.
During an interaction with traders in Jalandhar on Saturday, 32-year-old Shashank Gupta had asked whether Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party would pass an anti-conversion law in Punjab if it comes to power after the February polls.
Gupta, who described himself as a small business owner, claimed that the city was a “hub of conversion” of the poor through allurements. Kejriwal replied: “If anyone’s conversion is done by allurement or threat, it is wrong.” Gupta interjected by asking: “Will you make a law?”
Kejriwal answered: “Bilkul banna chahiye (Of course, it should be made). But the law should not be misused to harass anyone.”
Twelve states in India have anti-conversion laws in place. Allegations of conversions to Christianity by Hindu and Sikh Dalits periodically lead to minor incidents of violence in Punjab where Christians make up 1.26 per cent of the population.
However successive governments have avoided regulating religion in the state.
Of late, several BJP-ruled states have either passed or are in the process of clearing anti-conversion laws against the backdrop of increasing attacks on Christians and their places of worship.
Several people took to social media to criticise Kejriwal for appearing evasive on such laws at a time minorities are being targeted.
Odisha-based Catholic priest and activist Ajaya Kumar Singh wrote on Facebook: “Odisha is the first state to introduce an anti-conversion law (in 1967). Not a single person is convicted even after 50 years. Recently some false cases have been slapped; harassment has increased. Kejriwal wants that.”
AAP’s agenda for the Punjab polls makes no mention of anti-conversion laws, as has been the case with all its election promises.
Kejriwal had himself been subjected to a false rumour campaign that he was a closet Christian, with those who targeted him pointing to his volunteer work with the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta in 1992 and him attending her sainthood ceremony at the Vatican in 2016.