During a visit to Tirupati as a part of his Rayalaseema tour, Jana Sena Party chief Pawan Kalyan spoke against religious conversions that are allegedly being done near the temple. “When I came out after visiting the Tirumala temple, people voiced their concerns over the rise in religious conversions in the region. I am not pseudo-secular, I strongly respect secularism. Just like I raise my voice when there’s a threat to other religions, when there is injustice happening to the Hindu religion which I practice, I will raise my voice. I don’t care whether I gain or lose votes by doing so,” Pawan Kalyan said.
He also condemned the alleged religious conversion of around 40 persons at the Punnami Pushkar Ghat along the Krishna river bank near Vijayawada. In a statement, the actor-turned-politician said, “We have been informed through video footage that some non-Hindu religious persons are resorting to conversions at the Pushkar ghats located on the banks of Krishna River meant for the Hindu devotees to have a dip at the sacred place of Indrakeeladri. What the YCP government is doing while the religious conversions are taking place unabated?” He questioned the Hindu leaders of the YSRCP for not taking action when conversions were happening less than 10 kilometres away from the Chief Minister’s residence.
It is to be noted that there is nothing illegal about conversions in India. Indian Constitution provides freedom of religion as a fundamental right to all citizens. Some states have laws against forced or ‘fraudulent’ conversion, but there is no ban on conversion anywhere in India. However, political rhetoric in the country has rarely distinguished between ‘forced’ conversion, and voluntary conversion to another religion.
Pawan Kalyan said: “About 100 people have been converted to another religion in the past week. Is this the respect Jagan Reddy giving to the Hindu religion?” He added that his party would release video footage of the conversions at the ghat received from ‘Hindu religious fans.’
Addressing the media, Pawan went on to say, “We wouldn’t go to Kadapa dargah and say ‘jai bhavani’, or go to the Medak church and say ‘jai shree ram’. Similarly no one should go to Hindu temples and say ‘Hail Jesus’. It is wrong.” He also added that he believes in Hindu Sanatana Dharma, and stands for protection of Dharma.
He also went on to question the transfer of former Chief Secretary LV Subrahmanyam, alleging that the instructions issued by Subrahmanyam over transfer of the TTD (Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam)’s non-Hindu employees had influenced the decision. The same allegation was earlier made by the Andhra Pradesh BJP.
Pawan Kalyan went on to say that the YSRCP should be grateful to him for their electoral victory. “If I had approached the Prime Minister and Chandrababu Naidu, and like in 2014, we had decided to form an alliance, you can imagine the state in which all these (YSRCP) leaders would’ve been now,” he said.
In the 2014 elections, JSP had supported the BJP-TDP alliance. However, by 2019, both the JSP and TDP had exited the NDA. In 2019, JSP contested the elections in an alliance with the BSP, CPI and CPI(M).
However, lately, former CM Chandrababu Naidu seems to be making efforts to move closer to the BJP leadership in New Delhi, while also making amends with JSP. Earlier in October, during a visit to Visakhapatnam to strengthen the TDP in the region, Naidu reportedly expressed regret over leaving the NDA, stating that the decision had led to the TDP’s electoral loss. Recently, Naidu thanked Narendra Modi and Amit Shah for addressing the issue of the missing capital of Andhra Pradesh from the newly issue map of India. He said that Amit Shah had ‘endeared himself to Telugu people’ by mentioning Amaravati on the map.
At the Tirupati press meet, the JSP chief told reporters that while the YSRCP leaders were afraid of Amit Shah, Pawan Kalyan himself respected him. “I never moved away from the BJP. I merely differed with the party, to demand the Special Category Status for the people of Andhra Pradesh.” Naidu was reported to have made a strikingly similar statement earlier during his Vizag visit. Andhrajyothy reported that Naidu told party workers, “Only for the benefit of the state we differed with the Centre. But because of that, the TDP is at a loss now, while there were no gains for the state. Things would have been different if we had not created those differences. We need to ensure that we do not make such mistakes in the future.”
Earlier in November, Pawan Kalyan had called for a ‘long march’ in Vizag, against the issue of sand scarcity in the state. The march was backed by the TDP, while the Andhra BJP also extended support without participating directly. Pawan Kalyan’s latest statements have now led to speculations over a possible alliance between the BJP, TDP and JSP in the future.
“For the Telangana cause, all political parties came together. Sometimes, for everyone’s benefit, circumstances change. Even the BSP, which stands against Brahminism, had to take support from Brahmins,” Pawan Kalyan said.