New Delhi: Never once during the general election did Narendra Modi deport himself as less than the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime minister candidate with all the dignity and responsibilities it entails. During a terrorist attack at his first Patna rally, he brought statesman-like calm and forbearance to the situation. And since coming to power, Prime Minister Modi has exalted his office and goes from strength to strength. It is unfortunate, therefore, to daily witness the Upper House of Parliament being obstructed by the opposition to implicate the prime minister on bogus charges of communalism related to attempted religious conversions by fringe groups. The Central government has urged states to make the necessary prosecutions against law-breakers, law and order being a state subject under the Constitution. In one well-publicized case in Uttar Pradesh, a key arrest has been made. All over the country, law-enforcement agencies have been sensitized to the thorny issue. How is it sensible to implicate the prime minister in matters beyond his clear jurisdiction?

Conversion is a sensitive issue. It is so sensitive that it bothered M. K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Gandhi wrote against conversion and Nehru’s government actively discouraged the entry of proselytisers into the country. To an admirer who spoke to Gandhi about changing his faith, he said simply he should respect the faith he was born under, and that all faiths preached goodness and devoutness in them brought the same benefits. To this writer, this represents the strongest argument against conversion. This piece does not consider the special cases where this prescription may not apply, including individual preferences. No law can cover them or should. But where conversion is forced or induced, surely the state has a role to play. The opposition would go with this position selectively. This has served no one. The law must equally apply to all without considerations of vote banks. Neither will the opposition accept this simple and fair proposition nor permit critical legislative business to proceed in the Rajya Sabha. The country is harmed.

At the core of his prime ministry, Narendra Modi has placed development and growth. He has no other agenda. This is apparent to anyone who has interacted with the prime minister or observed him from a great distance, as this writer has. If he didn’t have vision, a sense of purpose, and did not exude a can-do spirit, world leaders wouldn’t line up to fete him, as they have done at every international forum where the prime minister has put an appearance. An American Embassy official asked this writer, somewhat nonplussed, why President Obama was visiting India twice in his presidency, a little unprecedented in US presidential history. He didn’t have a cogent reason himself. The reason is Narendra Modi. Modi has mesmerized Obama as a “man of action”; Angela Merkel of Germany, another doer, is equally enthralled. The world has few movers and shakers today. A very bright and experienced French woman lawyer rued the fate of her country and indeed that of Western Europe, saying there was no spark on the Left or Right. Narendra Modi presents an exception to this trend.

Is it jealousy that is prompting the opposition to hold up the Rajya Sabha? The media has indicated to this effect. It says the opposition wants to prevent the passage of the insurance bill before President Obama arrives. If this is true, it reveals churlishness, hopelessness and despair on the opposition side. Does it really mean to take on Narendra Modi by hurting the country’s interests? Is it serious? Can it imagine the impact on voters who are already rejecting opposition parties like the Indian National Congress in election after election? If it gets abroad that the opposition is actively stalling the growth and development prospects of India -- as seems clearly the case -- it would boomerang on it. It can win no points with the electorate by damaging their last chance to progress and a good life.

Nevertheless, in his own way, and at a time of his choosing, Prime Minister Narendra Modi must make clear that his development and growth plans embrace all communities and regions of India. He has said so before and he must repeat himself. Unity in diversity perhaps has become cliched; but a garden of multi-coloured flowers is all the same a pleasure to behold. Only a philistine would be hostile and indifferent to the breathtaking beauty and grandeur of the Lincoln Cathedral in England. The example of next-door Pakistan clearly points to where religious extremism leads: to the death of innocents. Exhausted by the religious wars, Modern Europe separated Church from State. The separation was by no means perfect; it required another imperfection, the fusion of Catholic and Protestant Germany into a great power, to de-privilege religion. But there was an early precedent on which Europe was able to move forward. The religious and sectarian differences had not all vanished; but there was a resolve to rise above them for a better life. For all the anti-Semitism of Europe, Nazi Germany was defeated. Perhaps India cannot learn all at once what Europe gathered in fits and starts over five hundred years; but we must begin somewhere and without the bloodshed.

It devolves on Prime Minister Modi to inaugurate this era of rapid learning.