Leaders and lawmakers of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party are back at their favourite game of polarising voters
Mahesh Trivedi | Clarion India
AHMEDABAD — With elections to the local self-government bodies due in February and assembly polls less than two years away in Gujarat, leaders and lawmakers of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are back at their favourite game of polarising voters — this time by mounting pressure on the Vijay Rupani government to enact a law to combat coercive interfaith marriages, the so-called ‘love jihad’.
After saffron-ruled states like Uttar Pradesh (UP), Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Karnataka and Assam gave a thumbs-up to the anti-conversion law, chances are Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state will also soon have a legislation against ‘love jihad’, an Islamophobic conspiracy theory alleging that Muslim men target women belonging to non-Muslim communities for conversion to Islam by feigning love.
While state BJP chief C.R. Patil has said that “if anyone does it (marry) with any wrong motive or for the purpose of religious conversion, then there should be a law to curb such practice,” Chief Minister Rupani, when asked, has not ruled out the possibility but told journalists recently that the state government would “see when the time comes” about the need for framing such legislation.
The visit of several senior local BJP leaders, including a parliamentarian, a legislator, the city unit president and an ex-mayor, to the Vadodara home of a 23-year-old Hindu woman to advise her for seeking an annulment of her recent marriage with a Muslim man, and invocation of ‘love jihad’ by the public prosecutor in a special court in Surat to successfully oppose the release of a Muslim rape accused also show that the BJP-controlled state administration has rolled up its sleeves to bring in a law against ‘love jihad’.
On December 1, Dabhoi BJP legislator Shailesh Mehta was the first to demand a law on the lines of the one enforced in UP against illegal religious conversions. Just two days later, Bharuch BJP MP Mansukh Vasava dashed off a letter to Rupani to usher in a strict law to curtail alleged cases of ‘love jihad’ in the state, the first Hindutva laboratory of the saffron party.
Mehta, who was put under the lens by the Election Commission for his ‘hateful speeches’ during his 2017 assembly poll campaign in his constituency, had in a public statement said that a stringent law against ‘love jihad’ would be brought in every state where the BJP was in power. “Gujarat is the first state to believe in Hindutva, so obviously, a law against ‘love jihad’ will be brought forth here, too.”
In his December 3 missive to the Chief Minister, which Vasava also tweeted from his official account on December 15, he said, “The number of cases where Muslim youths have been luring Hindu girls with various promises and trapping them in marriages by way of ‘love jihad’ is increasing. Many of these Muslim youths exploit the compulsions of some Hindu girls and entice them into marriages. It is the need of the hour to have a law against ‘love jihad’, on the lines of the Uttar Pradesh government.”
Enraged, Mujahid Nafees, convener of the Minority Coordination Committee (MCC), which has been fighting for a separate Minority Welfare Ministry and a special economic package for minorities in Gujarat, has demanded that an FIR be filed against the parliamentarian for attempting to create communal discord and trying to vitiate the atmosphere against the six million Muslims in the state.
“Being a parliamentarian, the BJP leader should be looking at uniting communities. But here, he is trying to create a rift. It looks like a preparation for the upcoming local polls in the state,” Mujahid told Clarion India.
While Zahid Kadri, a popular community leader, said that the Rupani regime would surely enact a law against ‘love jihad’ as all BJP-ruled states were hand-in-glove with each other, senior Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia opined that any adult members had fundamental rights to get married with the partner of his/her choice, and any law prohibiting these rights were unconstitutional.
“BJP knows this fact. But only for political purposes, they are enacting the anti-conversion laws which, however, would be nullified in the courts of law. There are possibilities of enacting such laws in Gujarat as legislative assembly polls are approaching in two years,” he said.
Even as Gujarat Congress president Amit Chavda also said that the Constitution of India had given freedom to the citizens and it could not be taken away by bringing some laws, Chandanji Thakor, an MLA of the grand old party from Sidhpur, stirred up a hornet’s nest by urging Rupani in a letter to make parents’ consent mandatory for court marriages and discontinue secret registration of such marriages.
Lambasting the legislator for muddying the waters for interfaith couples, social activist Dev Desai told this journalist that the provisions of the Constitution and the Criminal Procedure Code gave freedom to two adults to choose life partners of their choice irrespective of one’s religion or caste, and courts were the last and only resort for such harassed couples.
“Where else would they go if even the courts have to base their decisions on parents’ approval?” asked Desai and demanded an apology from the Congress lawmaker whose suggestion, he said, was an attack on freedom of choice and freedom of expression.
According to Gujarat High Court advocate Iqbal Masud Khan, a law against interfaith and intercaste marriages itself is against the Constitution, and puts an unreasonable and illegal restraint on the fundamental right of citizens to live a life of their own choice.
“The way BJP-ruled states have now been making such freedom illegal with new laws will definitely prompt the Rupani government to take up the venture in poll-bound Gujarat by banning such marriages by forced legislation.”
According to Kaleem Siddiqui, an Ahmedabad-based senior journalist and dedicated social worker who was hounded by the police for campaigning against the anti-Muslim amendment to the controversial citizenship law, the Gujarat government will definitely pass a law against interfaith marriages.
“They will definitely do so because BJP is part of RSS which wants this type of law. In this government, which works only for industrialists and RSS, minorities and Dalits have been waiting for donkey’s years and tribals are struggling for their land rights.”
Hamid Memon, trustee and founder of Shahin Foundation, a non-profit education centre working for empowerment of underprivileged children and youths through education, said that any law against interfaith marriages only served to divide society and was targeted at a particular community (Muslims), and the government had no right to interfere in personal matters of love or marriage.
“I am not sure whether the BJP government of Gujarat, like other states, will also opt for an anti-conversion law but then given the party’s record of keeping one community (Hindus) in good humour, one can surely expect such gimmicks and shenanigans from saffronites,” summed up Memon, whose foundation has also been in the vanguard of corona warriors.