In late 2002, there was a national debate on the anti-conversion law after the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and AIADMK supremo, the late Jayalalitha passed this law in Tamil Nadu Assembly on 31 October 2002. After this, the then BJP President M Venkaiah Naidu said that the BJP fully supported this law, and that it would pass this in BJP-ruled states. Later Gujarat passed this law on 26 March 2003. Few other BJP-ruled states passed it later, though there are still BJP Governments which have not passed this law, eg Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Assam etc where it needs to be passed as soon as possible.
At that time, NDTV had a collaboration with Star News, and The Big Fight was a popular program broadcast on it, then anchored by Rajdeep Sardesai (later by Vikram Chandra from 2005 onwards after Rajdeep left NDTV). In late 2002, this anti-conversion law was the topic of debate with the late B P Singhal (1932-2012) of the BJP, Father Dominic Emmanuel, spokesman, Delhi Archdiocese and Jayanti Natarajan of the Congress. It is not clear to this writer unfortunately if she was the Congress spokesperson then, though she definitely became 2003 onwards. An article of The Times of India says that she was made Congress spokesperson after the Tamil Manila Congress merged with the Congress in 2002. This merger happened on 14 August 2002, so it is quite possible that by the time of November 2002 she would have been the official spokesperson, but it is not clear.
In that debate Jayanti Natarajan said the following:
1- “Who says Vedas are the source book of Hindus, the Vedas are not”;
2- “Scheduled Castes are not Hindus”;
3- “the Dalits are not Hindus”;
4- “if Hinduism is not a proselytising religion then how did South East Asia become Hindu – how do you explain Shaivite kingdoms in southern India”;
5- “Sage Agastya proselytised southern India into Hinduism”;
6- “the right to propagate religion under Article 25 of the Constitution includes the right to convert”;
7- “the Supreme Court 1977 decision on conversion ban will hopefully be heard by another bench in future and altered”.
Tahir Mahmoud’s article “Are All Tribals Hindus” in The Hindustan Times, dated 28 January 1999 said:
“The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950 said in so many words that a non-Hindu could never be a Scheduled Caste (even if belonging to a particular caste included in the official list of Scheduled Castes). By an amendment introduced in 1956, it was provided that only a Hindu or Sikh could be a Scheduled Caste. The Scheduled Caste law is, thus, clearly religion-based and its religious basis has generated abundant caste laws. The Supreme Court has held that a Scheduled Caste Hindu on ceasing to be a Hindu also ceases to be a Scheduled Caste and, should he ever reconvert to Hinduism, he will also regain forthwith the Scheduled Caste status.”
But in her most stunning feat Mrs Natarajan held that the right to propagate one’s religion under Article 25 includes the right to convert. She outdid even Father Dominic Emmanuel in her zeal to advocate conversions. While Father Dominic appeared apologetic on the issue of conversions, she appeared proactive. She was also of the view that conversion ban existing in certain states like Arunachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Orissa (which continued under Congress Governments later, and the Congress Government of Himachal Pradesh itself passed such a law in 2007 under Virbhadra Singh) should be rethought and rescinded by future governments.
Jayanti Natarajan doesn’t count Scheduled Castes and Dalits amongst Hindus. The reason being that they are not admitted into temples at many places. Is it not a paradox that she simultaneously attacks Hinduism as a caste-ridden religion in a pejorative sense? Why should Hindus suffer being maligned as caste-ridden if she has already discounted “Scheduled Castes” and “Dalits” as non- Hindus? You can’t have the cake and eat it too. Let us state here that there are many Mosques and Churches too which do not admit all Muslims and Christians. Catholic and Protestant Churches are very often totally separate, there are more than 80 castes in Islam in India at least, including the untouchable caste of Arzal, mentioned by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, and there are 33,820 denominations in Christianity as per Vatican Year 2000 book’s own admission, and ‘Dalit’ Christians are discriminated in India, too. Just see 3 reports-this, this and this. Sitting in glass houses, let no one throw stones at Hindu community.
These statements of Jayanti Natarajan result in fragmentization of the Hindu society- separating Dalits from Hindus. Her open advocacy of conversions (which are almost always one-sided, mostly from Hinduism to other religions) results in quicker destruction of Hindus.
At that time, the then BJP spokesman and MP and intellectual, Balbir Punj wrote all the above things in “An open letter to Sonia Gandhi” published in The Asian Age on 10 December 2002. He asked Sonia Gandhi for the Congress’ exact position on the views of Jayanti Natarajan. She was definitely a Congress leader in that debate, having joined the Congress in August 2002. That full article of Balbir Punj can be read here.
In February 2003, as Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Ajit Jogi openly said that “Tribals are not Hindus” and that any religion they embrace is their first, and thus implied that it is not ‘conversion’ if they embrace Christianity.
As expected, there was no clarification from Sonia Gandhi on any of these issues. Till date, the Congress has not clarified its position on these statements of Jayanti Natarajan and Ajit Jogi. All these facts need to be remembered, and reminded to the Congress, when the Congress tries to show its Hindu credentials, e.g. when Rahul Gandhi visits temples before elections.
(The writer is the author of book “Gujarat Riots: The True Story” which gives all details about the 2002 riots- Godhra and after, one of the admins of www.gujaratriots.com and one of the admins of the Twitter handle @gujaratriotscom)