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Gujarat attacks not against Sonia - The Observer

Jyotirmoy Datta ()
January 19, 1999

Title: Gujarat attacks not against Sonia
Author: Jyotirmoy Datta
Publication: The Observer
Date: January 19, 1999

The recent spate of attacks on Christians in Gujarat had
"nothing to do with" Congress President Sonia Gandhi, a top
leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has said.

Asked if the targetting of Christians was part of a political
agenda to discredit Sonia Gandhi, who is a Roman Catholic, VHP
Working President Bhupendra Kumar Modi said the attacks had no
connection with her. "Sonia Gandhi is by her marriage wen
accepted as a Hindu," Modi, on a week-long tour of the US and
Europe, said.

"The masses have accepted her as Rajiv Gandhi's wife. She has
embraced Indian culture. She visits temples and offers 'puja'.
These Incidents have nothing to do with Sonia Gandhi. I knew
Rajiv Gandhi well and I know and respect her... as a model for
Indian womanhood." Modi said.

He is also the chairman of Modicorp, one of five biggest
industrial houses, is in New York to discuss a proposal for what
he described as a "spiritual non-aggression pact" with a group
at the United Nations. He is due to visit Los Angeles, London
and Paris before returning to India.

The VHP leader also claimed that his organisation was not
involved in the Gujarat incidents. "It has been established by
a team of inquiry that the VHP is not involved in these
attacks," he said.

"The reason it has been surmised that the VHP is behind these
attacks is because of the Parishad's long record of conducting a
movement against forcible conversions," Modi said.

"For centuries it has been the practice of an invading king or
an invading power to convert the population of a country it has
conquered to its own religion. We want an end to this
practice."

Asked if the VHP has any evidence of "forcible conversions",
Modi said any kind of inducement offered to change one's
religion was forcible conversion. "I am talking of missionaries
who pursue conversion as an agenda," he said.

"These missionaries are evaluated on the basis of the number of
conversions achieved. They tell the poor villager that he is
poor because of his religion and that if he changed his religion
he would become rich. This is an inducement through money - and
also offer other materialistic benefit."

"There have been many conversions all over the world. This is
not a new thing. Conversions are carried out as part of their
agenda by agencies supported by the power of arms or money,"
Modi continued.

"Muslim countries do not allow any missionaries into their
countries. India does. But being a democracy, it also has a free
press, which reports such conversions. Because of the free
press, these examples of conversions are becoming more and more
noticed.

"If a person changes his religion on his own, that is his own
choice and such a personal choice is respected all over the
world. But when you try to change the religion of an entire
family or community, then it cannot be seen as a person's
individual choice. When a whole village is converted en masse,
it is not an individual choice. That is an example of forcible
conversion, he claimed.

About VHP leader Giriraj Kishore's statement that the
organisation aimed to strike an alliance with the world's non-
aggressive religions such as Buddhism, Jainism and Confucianism.

While opposing the evangelism of "aggressive" religions like
Islam and Christianity, Modi said the idea had come up at an
inter-faith conference in Kyoto, Japan, followed by a conference
at Modinagar. The latter was attended by as many as 5,000 Hindu
and Buddhist teachers and monks from many lands.

"Nearly 80 per cent of mankind follow the four major religions-
Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. These have been
around for thousands of years," Modi said.

"Conquering powers have converted defeated populations to their
brand of religion for centuries. It is universally recognised
that conquest of territory by military occupation Is wrong. At
the start of the 21st century we want the UN to declare forcible
conversion of people too is wrong."


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