I want a debate on conversions

Updated: Aug 27 2006, 05:30am hrs
In 2003 Uma Bharati had stalled the induction of Shivraj Singh Chouhan into the Atal Behari Vajpayee ministry. Two years later, Bharatis hopes of reclaiming Madhya Pradesh chief ministership were thwarted by Chouhan. A five-time Lok Sabha MP from Vidisha and a post-graduate in philosophy, Chouhan keeps a low profile. Thanks to this, many people underestimate his manipulative skills. During his nine months in office, Chouhan has dutifully carried forward the Sangh Parivar agenda, enacting a stringent anti-conversion law and changes in school textbooks. He has also fought back the Narmada Bachao Andolan over rehabilitation of the dam displaced. He joined the Indian Express Group reporters and editors for lunch at the Express office and shared his thoughts.

Sonu Jain: Why was MP slow in carrying out rehabilitation work despite the fact that Gujarat was paying for it

It is true that Gujarat gave money for rehabilitation. We are striving for the development 86 rehabilitation sites. However, the Narmada Bachao Andolan also spreads misinformation.

Sonu Jain: No one was forthcoming from the MP Government when Medha Patkar staged a dharna at the Capital. Why did the state Government take so much time to react

Medha has more news value. A negative news gets more publicity too. But, we welcomed the Shunglu Committee and invited the media to come and see rehabilitation work.

Coomi Kapoor: There are reports of a woman committing sati in the state. What are you doing to check such incidents

I have ascertained facts from the district administration. According to preliminary information, it was not sati. The Adivasi community to which the woman, Janak Rani, belonged has no tradition of Sati. It can be described as a case of suicide. Sati or no sati, I have given strict instructions to the administration to ensure that there is no glorification of the incident. We would not allow anyone to offer flowers or coconuts at the spot.

Pradeep Kaushal: Your anti-conversion law has become controversial. Even the Pope has expressed his concern over lack of religious freedom in certain areas of the country. The reference is obviously to BJP-ruled states. What do you say to this

I want a debate on conversions. The anti-conversion law is not targeted at Christians or any other community it is applicable to all. We only say that you must give prior information to the Government if you want to convert. There are numerous articles by even Mahatma Gandhi decrying conversion. It was a Congress government in Orissa which first introduced an anti-conversion law. Subsequently, a similar law was enacted under a Congress regime in MP.

We have to see that conversions do not take place under duress or due to some greed or temptation.

Saubhik Chakrabarty: What is the states problem even if I convert for money

We have to be vigilant given the kind of campaigns which have started for conversions. We have no problem if someone converts due to his free will. Even if it is due to money, prior information must be provided.

Vandita Mishra: What would you do if you have prior information

We would see whether or not it involves foreign money. We would find out if there is some other motive.

Gautam Chikermane: What is your objection if I want to convert

No objection. But we feel if someone converts people by pressurising them or by spreading falsehood, we dont think it is good.

Abhay Mishra: The RSS also propagates its ideology among tribals.

Everybody has the right to propagate his views.

Manini Chatterjee: You talked about a high profile Medha, but you also have another high profile woman in your state, Uma Bharati. There have been three BJP chief ministers during two and a half years. Have you been able to overcome internal problems What is the impact of Uma Bharatis exit from BJP

There is no impact in MP. May be there is some impact outside MP. Umaji definitely has news value. Because of her profile, whatever she says gets reported. At the grassroots, things are different. She campaigned for the Gondwana Ganatantra Party candidate against me in the Budhni assembly by-election for eight days and she lost the security deposit.

Pamela Philipose: But there is a feeling that it was Uma Bharati who had won the assembly election for the BJP.

We won because of two factors. The first was the issue of bijli, sarak and paani. The Congress government of Digvijay Singh had neglected all three. People wanted a change. The second was the hard work done by lakhs of BJP workers. The BJP still has a collective leadership.

Pamela Philipose: Since Uma also swears by the BJP ideology, would the BJP form a joint front with her

In Madhya Pradesh, it is the BJP which has a base. People support the BJP because of its ideology. Individual leaders are important for election campaign. That also makes some impact. But it is the party, which matters.

Manini Chatterjee: The MP BJP has had factionalism for a long time. How do you cope with it

I would not deny differences. Wherever you have people with flesh and blood, differences are bound to occur. They are reflected more in a mass party. But everybody who is committed to the party would come along.

Sumati Maharshi Sharma: You talked of promotion of tourism, but MP has not been able to market itself.

I agree, we have not been able to do as much as much as we could. We plan to develop islands in the Narmada and project our tourist spots like Sanchi, Mandu Bandhavgarh, Orchcha in a big way.

Sumati Maharshi Sharma: Would you not use Habib Tanvir because of your differences with him

We would. We dont differentiate among artistes because of their views. We encourage all of them equally.

Sumati Maharshi Sharma: One does not see any impact of your being the chief minister the way one sees in the case of Vasundhara Raje. If one goes to Bhopal one gets a feeling that Uma Bharati is still the chief minister of MP. Her hoardings and posters can be seen all over.

I dont know how did you get this feeling. You might have come to Bhopal the same day as Uma.

Jayanth Jacob: There were 18 cases against Christian missionaries over conversions in MP. The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) found after a visit to MP that most of these cases were based on false charges. How serious do you think is the threat to your state from Christian missionaries What is your plan to check flow of funds to them

We are committed to provide security to all. We would act if any missionary is attacked. Since the BJP is in the government the media highlights even small incidents.

Gautam Chikermane: All your welfare sche-mes involve expense. Where would this money come from

We are very good when it comes to fiscal discipline. We have had a surplus budget and we have not run in to an overdraft even for a day. The Centre has given us a special incentive of Rs 293 crore for financial discipline.

Gautam Chikermane: If I am an industrialist, tell me, why should I come to MP

We offer you 24-hour power supply, industrial peace, rich mineral deposits and a fast-improving infrastructure.

Kandula Subramaniam: You plan to improve the power situation through private sector investment. But, most Indian and foreign companies which had initially evinced interest have packed up and run away. I know of one overseas company, which has folded up, but it is maintaining an office and keeping its lawyers just to recover its deposit from the MP Government.

We would remove all obstacles and try to see that no company runs away.

Pamela Philipose: Do you feel any stepmotherly treatment by the Centre

Sometimes differences between the Centre and a state are there, but sometimes you feel they are being created. But, there is no major difficulty.

Gautam Chikermane: You have talked of the single-table service for clearing industrial projects. How many projects have you cleared

Worth Rs 22,000 crore.

Vrinda Gopinath: Names of many high profile candidates are in circulation for contesting the Vidish by-election. Have you made up your mind on who would be the BJP candidate

The party will decide after the schedule for the by-election is announced.

Pamela Philipose: And your wife

No. She is not a candidate.

Coomi Kapoor: Your government has made changes in school text books to make them conform to your party viewpoint.

Nothing has been changd due to any bias. It is a non-issue. We had tried to include whatever a child finds around himself the things he can relate himself to. If a chapter on Jawaharlal Nehru has been knocked off the first standard book, a chapter on him has been introduced in the seventh standard syllabus.