One theory in the BJP is that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's "re-conversion" pitch is an embarrassment for Narendra Modi, who has little option but to bear it stoically for now and hope the hawks would pipe down.
The other is that the Prime Minister and the Sangh are on the same page. "The Sangh is advocating what Modi and his government would like to - a law banning conversions," an insider said.
"Modi can't openly endorse what the Sangh leaders are doing without provoking diplomatic censure from the West; that's why he is letting others speak."
A BJP official from the "liberal" camp, however, said the Sangh's "embarrassing" statements represented the "last gasp" of a dying organisation "fighting to stay relevant in modern times".
"The Sangh was reduced to a zero during the 10 years of UPA rule. The number of its shakhas (daily training camps) had declined; it wasn't drawing young people. Now that there's a BJP majority government, it wants it to fulfil its archaic agendas," he said.
Such speculation has intensified in the party after Sangh chief Mohanrao Bhagwat's comments at a Vishwa Hindu Parishad event in Calcutta on Saturday.
Bhagwat said there was nothing wrong or new in bringing "home" converts enticed or hijacked by proselytisers, that those against such "homecomings" should try and get all conversions outlawed, and if one didn't "want to change into a Hindu", they "should not convert Hindus, either".
This too has led to two kinds of responses within the BJP. Parliamentary affairs minister M. Venkaiah Naidu, the first in the government to broach an anti-conversion law last week, provided one.
"The government has nothing to do with re-conversions or conversions. I will go a step further and say the BJP has nothing to do with re-conversions or conversions," he said today.
He went so far as to associate the government with a position foreign minister Sushma Swaraj had taken at a conclave yesterday by India Foundation, a Delhi-based think tank aligned with the Sangh-BJP.
Media reports quoted Sushma as saying: "The four concepts of democracy, diversity, non-violence and tolerance should become an integral part of our toolbox for solving present-day conflicts."
"This is the government's stance," Naidu stressed, handing out the first certificate of approval in ages to a marginalised Sushma.
But where does Modi stand? "His dilemma is acute. He knows he couldn't have become the prime ministerial candidate without the Sangh's blessings," an insider said.
"He knows that outfits like the VHP, Bajrang Dal and their offshoots won't change, and that he has permanent enemies like the VHP's Praveen Togadia and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh."
A minister said Modi was therefore doing what was politically expedient: "Make no commitment in Parliament but ensure his ministers did not join issue with either the VHP or the secular-liberals. We were told to keep quiet."
Simultaneously, to ensure a modicum of "peace" with the Sangh and parivar siblings, the party's House backbenchers have been told to "hit back" if the Opposition offensive got too hot. "We won't tolerate Hindu-bashing after a point," a Bihar MP said.
Sangh sources are hoping that Bhagwat's statements, the end of Parliament's winter session and a prospective victory in Jharkhand would cap the conversion row.
"We have flagged a debate on an anti-conversion law," VHP secretary-general Champat Rai said.
"We have no plans about a re-conversion programme because we are preoccupied with our golden jubilee celebrations."
A source close to Modi hoped the VHP had not simply beaten a "tactical retreat" but would "remain true to Rai's words".
-The Telegraph, Calcutta
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