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Fake secularism? Vajpayee's anti-conversion logic and MP govt's 'love jihad' move

Counterview Desk

Harvard-educated policy analyst Mohan Guruswamy, who was finance minister Yashwant Sinha’s adviser in late 1990s, and then perceived as close to then Union home minister LK Advani, in a Facebook post has revealed how the then Prime Minister AB Vajpayee wanted “all conversions to be registered by district Collectors or magistrates after application through proper channels.”
Calling conversions the “centrepiece” logic behind a “love jihad” law, planned to be enacted in Madhya Pradesh, Guruswamy claims, Advani agreed with his view that any effort to put obstacle in changing one’s religion went against “all notions of personal freedoms like speech, belief and worship.”

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The declaration by the MP Home Minister to enact a law to ban "love jihad" marriages reminds me of an episode going back to 1998. The centerpiece of its logic is conversion. The sanghis believe that romance is a part of jihad to convert a Hindu woman or sometimes into a Muslim.
I was coopted by LK Advani, then BJP president, to write the NDA manifesto. The manifesto committee consisted of leaders like Vajpayee, Jaswant Singh, Fernandes, Venkiah, Mahajan, Sharad Yadav and some others. I had drafted most of the manifesto including the economics section, that promised greater loosening of FDI controls and SEZs. It also promised higher appropriations for health and education. There wasn't much discussion on these.
But Vajpayee had two submissions. One was India must go nuclear, reminding me of Krishna Kant, former VP, whose only contribution to any discussion was, "Hamko atom bomb banana chahiye!" Everybody seemed fine with this but agreed that this item must be couched in very ambiguous terms. Some mention was made about how Narasimha Rao's plan to test was scuttled after the US uncovered his plans. It was believed that a very high ranking defence scientist was behind the leak. I was tasked with writing this. This particular task had some consequences which I will hold for later.  
Mohan Guruswamy
The other Vajpayee item was more interesting. He wanted all conversions to be registered by District Collectors or Magistrates after application through proper channels. I was sitting next to Advani and whispered into his ear that this was absolute nonsense. 
Advani was at that time attempting to make a transformation from Hindu nationalist into a social and economic conservative. He had recently read a couple of books by Amartya Sen and was very impressed by them. I told him it offends all notions of personal freedoms like speech, belief and worship. Advani then asked me to speak up.
When I gave my spiel on freedoms and that a state cannot be given the power to approve or sanction them because these freedoms were inherent. Vajpayee reacted angrily to this. He pointedly asked me if conversion was to be treated so lightly? I somewhat cheekily remarked that politicians changed their political beliefs all the time, so why was religion different. 
Advani saved me from Vajpayee’s wrath by saying he supported my contention and that basic freedoms would be infringed by having this. Vajpayee then laughingly went along by telling me, "Tum Harvard walon sey bach key rahna padega?"
Not long after Vajpayee became PM he raised this issue again publicly and wanted it to be debated. "Iss pey ek bahas honi chahiye!" Of course, there was no “bahas”. But the Australian missionary Dr Graham Staines and his two young sons were burnt alive in their station wagon soon after.
So I decided to give him a bahas. I was the FMs advisor and technically part of government. But I nevertheless wrote a piece on conversion in the Indian Express titled "A Thousand Years of Shame" (“One Thousand Years of Shame”, February 3, 1999) in which I shredded the arguments against conversion. The PM didn't respond but saw to it that my position in government became untenable. So much for the humbug about Vajpayee’s secularism.

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