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Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2008 > September 13, 2008 > Conversions

Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 39


Thursday 18 September 2008, by Badri Raina



Now, as Miss Austen would have said, it is a truth universally acknowledged that India is the world’s largest democracy.

What, however, is less well-known is that it is also the most sinuously adjustable.

Take any of India’s political parties—excluding the ossified Left which remains unprofitably wedded to principle, although the principle may change from circumstance to circumstance—and you will find that its elected legislators may, whenever the paramount “national interest” so requires, leave the party fold and conscientiously defect to a more winsome outfit.

And since all parties are happily agreed, at least in private, that the “national interest” does often demand such selfless departures, few questions that may tend to a negative read of such “necessity” are ever seriously entertained.

For example:

Is it right that a politician elected on one platform of public trust jettison his/her covenant with the voter who elected him/her, or jettison his covenant with the particular party that gave him a ticket in the first place, and go over to another party that he/she may have infact roundly castigated during the campaign?

Should the democratic system permit such betrayal of public trust?

Or, put another way, allow political “conversions” where public faith and hope are involved?

It may be the case that in that mother of all democracies, Great Britain, such conversions are pretty much unheard of; indeed there they have a party—the Liberal Democrats—who never seem to ever want to do anything nimble enough to bring them close to state power. Backward child of long standing.

But, in the scheme of evolution, Indian democracy is a later species, and one more adept at the all-important principle of survival, chiefly personal.

It is true that when legislators offer the supreme sacrifice of conversion from one political allegiance to another, the public cry foul. But it is equally true that few political animals worldwide are as adroit at persuading the public to the contrary as the Indian politician. Which is why, more often than not, they are re-elected from a new party, on a new ticket. Until the next one beckons.


SAME is the case with the denizens of the companies and the corporates.

They may liquidate or merge with each other upon deep expert and managerial considerations dictated, no doubt, by the country’s best interests, even if often at lethal cost to the share-holders who aid them in the first place to come into existence.

As to the high-ups who run and flaunt these companies, who indoctrinate new recruits with the best principles of my-number-one, complete with frontier echelons of advertisers, commercial artists, and IT whiz-kids, one never knows when the supreme economic well-being of brand Bharat may require any prominent CEO to be, Coriolanus-like, conferencing on behalf of Corporate A in the morning and a rival corporate B the same afternoon.

Indeed, a superior executive who is seen to be hanging on to the same company for longer than time X invites the suspicion that he/she may not have much more to contribute to the health of the nation than is worth his/her current pay and perks package.

Like the enterprising politician, the company executive must be seen to be on the move, converting from one school of principles to the next, even if diametrically opposite ones.

Thus, among the money-makers and idea-spinners too “conversion” is seen to be altogether of the greatest utility and consequence to the body politic.

That the body politic may know next to nothing of these rarefied goings-on, or may know that which contradicts the claims of the converted, or may often indeed be at the gruesome receiving end of clandestine entrepreneurial Chinese chequers (in the shape of lethal gas leakages, or polluted drinking water, or manipulated shortages and prices, or fraudulent medicines in the market, or financial transactions that bring several edifices down) only goes to prove that what we in a democracy call the true sovereigns, namely the people, are nine out of ten unteachable and best remain so.


INDIAN democracy has, however, repeatedly demonstrated that the one domain where “conversions” are taboo is that which involves neither public trust nor party loyalty but is a matter of exclusive personal persuasion. A schema sanctified by the Constitution of the Republic of India. That book of common prayer says that, contrary to the barbarisms of old, what gods you worship or do not worship is entirely your business and nobody else’s.

Yet, when a citizen of India goes over from one religious faith to another, then it is, paradoxically you may well say, that the very foundations of the nation-state are shaken; then it is that public anguish may be wrought to a pitch that blood may flow, habitations go up in flames, and innocent men, women, and children be cut up like mutton for some conquering carnival.

If you don’t know how, take a trip to Kandhamal in Orissa. There you will find the Gujarat of 2002 replicated with a fury that refuses to abate, and that the powers-that-be seem in no hurry to abate either. All too familiar.

And you thought India was a secular state. More fool you.


THE killers of Kandhamal answer as follows: they will not tolerate conversions brought about through “inducements”. That is, all except their own kind. Naturally.

To wit, we are to understand that conversions from one political platform to another may well be humongously induced ones, conversions that through the years have, termite-like, gnawed into the very edifice of the state and polity, but since these can be argued to be in the “national interest” no objection can be made.

We are likewise to understand that conversions of CEOs and whole conglomerates may indeed be even more humongously induced—often with ramifications that make inimical foreign agents stake-holders in the life of the Republic—but that the business of business, after all, is business. Think that, after all, India may be the only civilisation where wealth is worshipped as a goddess rather than derided like Mammon. So when a Nano car runs down the highway, the occurrence not only may stir national pride but equally inspire the rag-picker to say: “Vande Mataram! What blessing that I am a rag-picker of this ‘mahan Bharat’ rather than of some lesser country.”


THE conundrum of course is that unlike the top echelons of political outfits or of corporate board rooms who frequently turncoat themselves in the larger interest, the gods and prophets who have spawned various religious corporations never do put in an appearance.

It is thus their politic and permanent absence which leaves no choice to the managers of various faiths but to hold fast to red lines that were seemingly laid down forever. And to order murder and mayhem whenever such lines are deemed to be crossed.

Thus, how truly the Bard did say:
- “As flies to wanton boys
- Are we to the gods;
- They kill us for their sport.”

And the gods having so decreed, how may a Home Minister here, or a Chief Minister there meddle in these matters? A loyal republic is one that must wait the next incarnation. Then, automatically, police reform, judicial reform, educational reform, administrative reform, ideological reform shall descend upon the South Block, and the letters secularism be rendered sufficiently incandescent for the government to see.

Pending that momentous happening, you may not convert from one faith to another, even if we grab your land, burn and slash your patch of forest, rape your women if you do put up resistance—or even if you don’t, bar you from our drinking water well, and from entry into the temple (which god knows why you wish to enter in the first place), deny you education, food, medicine, or kick your teeth in if you dare be standing while we pass.

You are neither a politician nor a CEO; so you will not convert upon inducement even of a loaf of bread, a word of dignity, a promise of brotherhood, an assurance of nursing in your disease, or of equal right to a pint of water when your thirst so maddens you.

And if you do, our hordes shall surely descend under full protection of the majesty of the state.

Then when you come crawling, we shall spit on you and convert you back—all in one spiritual go.

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