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New Delhi: The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is all for state governments banning religious conversions and a central law doing the same, parliamentary affairs minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said in the Lok Sabha on Thursday, during a debate on the issue of conversions—brought about by the recent, alleged forcible conversion of poor Muslims into Hinduism by some right-wing groups in Agra, Uttar Pradesh.

There have since been media reports that the Muslims were offered inducements, including money and so-called below the poverty line (BPL) cards which make them eligible for government benefits.

The conversion ceremony was conducted by the Dharma Jagran Samanvay Vibhag and the Bajrang Dal, right-wing groups affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)—the spiritual progenitor of the BJP. In television interviews following the conversion, some minor RSS leaders spoke of their continuing focus on “re-converting" people to Hinduism.

Their reference is to the conversion of Hindus to other religions, most notably Christianity, which, going by anecdotal accounts, happens in several states, with the converts often being offered inducements.

Almost all opposition parties insisted on a debate in the Lok Sabha. They claimed the Agra conversion, or “re-conversion" as some have termed it, goes against the idea of India as a pluralistic society.

Leading the debate, Congress member of Parliament Jyotiraditya Scindia said, “What has happened is against the constitution. Is it not the Prime Minister’s responsibility to protect the nation and spread the news of peace? The entire world is looking at India. We are proud we are a nation that is equal to all religions, but this is now being questioned."

In his response, Naidu said the government was committed to growth, development and poverty alleviation. He said it was up to the state and local authorities to investigate what happened in Agra and act on it. The central government would be happy to send an advisory to the state if required, he added.

Mulayam Singh Yadav, chief of Samajwadi Party (SP), which rules Uttar Pradesh, said the incident has not disrupted communal harmony in the city. “Parliament should come together and unanimously pass a resolution to stop any discrimination in the name of religion and caste," he said.

Naidu reiterated the government had contested the general election on the issue of development and good governance, and the issue of conversion should not be used for politics by opposition parties. “We are very clear of what we have promised people. Our philosophy talks about upliftment of poor," he added.

A political analyst said the government needed to respond quickly to the charges that it was helping create an environment that seemed to give right-wing groups a licence to push their agenda. “It is a sensitive matter. The government must pay the highest address to it so that it doesn’t lead to communal tension later," said A.K. Verma, a Kanpur-based political analyst.

Still, Verma said, it is more likely the conversions were induced than forced. He said that in a city like Agra, it was difficult to carry out conversions forcefully. “Somebody cannot be forcefully converted. The inducement factor is something that needs to be investigated."

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