Barack Obama is coming to India in order to take a special guard of honour on Republic Day. Before his arrival, Mr Obama sent a gift in the form of Richard Rahul Verma, an Indian upper-caste Hindu who converted to Christianity, as America’s ambassador to India. His father Kamal Verma and mother Savitri were pucca Hindu migrants from Punjab. Though Mr Verma does not disclose his Church connections, his name and that of his wife and children tell us the real story.
America is the dreamland for upper-caste educated Indians (mostly Hindus). Having settled there, young Indian-Americans would also like to climb the ladder of the American political system. But unless one is a Protestant the American civil society does not allow entry into its political space. Not just Mr Verma, but Bobby Jindal, the first ever Indian-American to become the governor of an American state (Lousiana), and Nikki Haley, governor of South Carolina, are also Christian.
According to Peter Whoriskey’s article (October 21, 2007) in the Washington Post, “Jindal was raised in a Hindu household, but he converted to Christianity while in Baton Rouge Magnet High School. During his first year at Brown University, he was received into the Roman Catholic Church. His family attends weekly Mass at St. Aloysius Parish in Baton Rouge”.
It is a known fact that except John F. Kennedy of the Democratic Party, no Catholic could become the President of America. Ms Haley is a Sikh, but converted to Christianity after marriage. One can list dozens of such prominent persons of Indian origin who converted to Christianity. The Americans are religious. If people of Indian origin of non-Christian religions do not accept Christianity, they will not be able to rise to high positions. But, by and large, Americans are not fundamentalist. It does not have the primitive mindset of Hindutva or Islamist forces.
Prime Minister Modi is hoping that his “Make in India” project will get lots of American investment. But what the forces around Mr Modi — the ones who are targeting Christians and Muslims through “ghar wapsi” — don’t realise is that though the American Christian capitalists believe in worldwide investment, they would not come to a country that attacks the right to religious freedom. The “ghar wapsi” programme supported in public by many Cabinet ministers including Venkaiah Naidu and Arun Jaitley, is aimed at attacking the dalits and tribals, as they are mostly the ones who have converted to Christianity.
This is likely to be a major reason why the American and European capitalists are not showing enthusiasm about India. Already, World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, has made a strong statement against caste practices in India. UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon also chided India for not respecting gay and lesbian rights.
The West reacts to any fundamentalism. If an anti-conversion law is passed by the Indian Parliament, the whole world would be up against India. When China was imposing restrictions on freedom of religion and conscience, the Western world carried a massive campaign against it. Now China has loosened those controls. The Americans know how to deal with forces that go against democratic freedoms.
Mr Obama’s answer to the “ghar wapsi” programme of Hindu fundamentalists is Mr Verma. Will the saffronites dare to insist on a “ghar wapsi” programme at US embassy now? Will they re-convert Mr Verma and his wife Pinky and children Lucy, Dylan and Zoe Verma? Will they perform shuddhi on Bobby Jindal, Nikki Haley and other upper-caste NRIs who converted to Christianity?
Mr Modi and his team are excited about a leader of Mr Obama’s stature being present for the first time in India on Republic Day. Mr Modi, perhaps, hopes to keep his own photograph of walking besides the mightiest man in the world during the Republic Day parade in the record books. In my student days, there used to be a photograph of Nehru walking with John F. Kennedy indicating their personal friendship. But Mr Modi is not a secular leader like Nehru who will ignore the religious background of Mr Obama.
Mr Obama is half-Christian and half-Muslim. He won Protestant hearts and became the President for two terms by following his religion faithfully. The “Ghar wapsi” kind of Hindu fundamentalism runs against Mr Obama’s spiritual ethic. Better to be watchful of him and his ambassador Mr Verma. Otherwise,
Mr Modi’s “Make in India” will turn into “Dukh in India”.
The writer is director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad