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Togadia and Azad
Debate between a priest and a liberal
Conversions-Why we shouldn't be debating
15-Feb-99

AntiBJP's policy immediately after the call for the debate on conversions, was that I wouldn't participitate in this so-called 'debate', no matter what compulsions and urgencies may arise. I held myself in check through countless 'conversions debate' editorials, articles, news interviews and other press statements. Anupama Rani (Editor, AntiBJP) pointed out the need to make a statement of some kind and went ahead to make Conversions Central. But finally, the blow was struck.

Pravin Togadia and Ghulam Nabi Azad had a debate on the 'conversions issue' on the Zee India Television Network. And the "trigger" was Pravin Togadia's smirking countenance, gloated with malicious elation; a look of finality and pride at a well completed task. The achievement of Togadia—a suppposedly resounding victory over his debating opponent and political rival Ghulam Nabi Azad.

Togadia appeared smug and 'prefessional'. Being the PR-boy of the VHP, his was obviously the job of constructing a dialectic scaffolding to the 'conversions issue'. Document after document, Committee reports, newspaper clippings and statements in the media were the weapons in his armamentarium. His line of thought: how can a well stocked and well-prepared debater be defeated?

Togadia's message to the nation was likewise, clear and unclouded. Toe the Hindu line or face the wrath of the Sangh. Azad's arguments on the other hand were well measured, moderate and essentially logically correct statements. But the impression that Togadia was trying to convey, an impression that the 'facts' were on his side, that Hindus were being converted 'forcibly by allurements and inducements'; this impression Azad couldn't refute. He was powerless because he had no 'facts' with him, he had no stockpile of journals and fat committe reports.

Conversions—the AntiBJP stand

Before we continue to dissect Togadia's claims of the 'destruction and demeaning' of Hindu philosophy, culture and tradition by the 'foreign forces', let me explain as to why one should not have a 'debate' on conversions.

A man's religous identity is usually decided by birth, religion, is conferred upon a man by his parents. Voluntary conversion to another religion is an another way by which a man can come to belong to another religious sect. The recognition that religion is purely a personal matter, to be left at the discretion of the individual, and not to be meddled around with is the principle of secularism. Under a secular government no organization, not even a religious one has a say over a man's religion.

Irrespective of what the Vajpayee has to say on the issue of conversions and religion, India is held to be a secular state, by word of Constitution. Which means that the aforementioned principles of secularism have to be upheld by the goverment. Any man, thus, is free to "preach, practise and propogate" his religion.

If a Hindu gets up in the morning and declares that he desires to be a Muslim henceforth, then he will be a Muslim. If the next day, he desires to convert to Christianity, he is free to do that too. A Indian citizen can do anything with his religion. This, the Constitution guarantees.

Go to Part #2. Conversions-why we shouldn't be debating

Articles in this series...
Part 1. Conversions-Why we shouldn't be debating
Part 2. Conversions-Why we shouldn't be debating, Cont'd
Part 3.The VHP's view of religion and tribals
Part 4. Mud-slinging, Gandhian quotes and liberal thinkers

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