Financially motivated and coerced conversions to Christianity under Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy have come fore for discussion in Andhra again. Speaking to Times Now, Raghu Ramakrishna Raju, YSRCP MP from Narsapuram, confessed that large scale conversions to Christianity were happening right under Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s nose. In minced words, he tried to shudder away his party leader’s responsibility by casually defending and passing it off as a nation-wide phenomenon. Ramakrishna Raju failed to acknowledge the value of religious liberty and how money was being misused to disobey ethos of the Indian constitution. The incident has once again raised the debate on YSRCP’s politics through evangelists causing deliberate disruption of in religious balance and homogeneity in AP.
YS Jagan Mohan Reddy is a third-generation converted Christian himself. His father and former CM Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy was known to be a practising Christian who openly supported religious conversions. Even Jagan’s brother-in-law, Anil Kumar, a Brahmin by birth who later converted to Christianity is a famous evangelist himself and regularly conducts public meetings with pastors, conversion groups and politicians from the ruling dispensation. Most recently, a public meeting was organised by Anil Kumar in the Paderu Mandal which was attended by YSRCP MLA Chetti Phalguna and Kottagulli Bhagyalakshmi along with hundreds of party volunteers.
Political observers have often referred to the YS family’s longstanding history of disrespecting Hindu sentiments. In 2005, Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy had announced the construction of a church at the sacred and much revered Tirumala Hills. Though this plan never succeeded, in 2019 Jagan Mohan Reddy visited the temple as a non-Hindu but refrained from signing the declaration of faith in Tirumala deity before his darshan. The conservative observers of Hindu right, have observed the visit to be a warning signal from someone who might think of turning his father’s plans into reality.
Alleged covert promotions of conversions by the government machinery have significantly increased in the recent past. There have been reports that in numerous Hindu-dominated villages, churches outnumber temples. Christian friendly policy interventions by Jagan Mohan Reddy have only added fuel to the fire. Jagan Mohan Reddy hiked financial aid to Christian pilgrims from Rs 40,000 to Rs 60,000 for those with annual income up to Rs 3 lacs and from Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000 for those with income over three lacs. In addition to this, an honorarium amount of Rs 5,000 per month was allocated from the state treasury for all pastors. Government bias was complemented with arrogance as the government issued a GO to order the village volunteers to identify pastors in their villages.
The worrying trend continued with the ground reports of Christian prayers and conversion activities being held in village secretariat premises built by the YSRCP government. Videos of police and government officials being present at these ceremonies have also surfaced online lately. Some irked opposition leaders even murmured about people being fraudulently enrolled in government schemes if they accepted an offer to convert.
These moves on the part of the government are seen as a blatant misuse of public money that goes against the democratic and secular values of India. The right-leaning commentators have opined religious conversion card, perhaps, as YSRCP’s bet for another term since policies and development have gone for a ride since Jagan assumed power.
The needless enthusiasm on the part of the ruling party ran a debate on the future of religious freedom in the State. The conservative watch guards in the Hindu majority state have demanded the imposition of restrictions on conversions. The Supreme Court has held that religious conversion is not a fundamental right. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the opposition soon builds on the same and demand for the anti-conversion bill in Andhra Pradesh also.
It is no exaggeration to say the YSRCP shook a beehive that should have been better left alone. Jagan Mohan Reddy must take immediate measures to regulate the coercive conversions and illegalities, if not an anti-conversion bill which seems a far cry by any means.