Dr Ram Puniyani, professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, also pursues a parallel career concerned with issues related to social problems, particularly the ones related to preservation of democratic and secular ethos. He says that acts of omission by the state have led to acts of commissions by vested interests.
Dr Puniyani, who is also a member of the Ekta Committee for Communal Amity, Mumbai, shared a few moments with rediff.com's Vicky Nanjappa regarding various burning issues of the day including Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray's actions, terrorism, forcible conversion and the Sangh Parivar.
What are your views on Raj Thackeray?
Well if you look at it, Raj is towing the line of his uncle (Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray) and that is separatism in the name of linguistics. There seems to be nothing new in what he is doing and it is just an inheritance of a political legacy.
Do you think Raj has been successful in his actions?
Yes he has been successful in stirring up a section of the masses. Unemployment creates a fertile ground to raise such issues and Raj has taken advantage of this. There is a large section of people who are still swayed by such acts. The unemployed youth of Maharashtra have started seeing this man as their saviour and these are the persons who will vote for him finally.
Has this man become so big that Mumbai shuts down when he is arrested? Don't you think that it is time that he is contained?
In my view this man has grown too big. In fact it is too late to contain him now. He has made his point, but the violence ought to stop. It is the duty of the state government to ensure that everyone has a right to live in peace in Mumbai.
Who do you think is responsible for the sudden growth of Raj Thackeray?
The Congress party, of course. If you look at the entire issue it is clear that the party's plan has backfired. They used Raj to eat into the Shiv Sena vote bank and now this man has grown so big that he is even eating into the Congress votes. The Congress let the violence take place initially, but all of a sudden they have realised that he is emerging as a major force. They are now trying to contain him. When arresting him the government should have plugged the holes. If they had done so Mumbai city would not have witnessed such madness.
Coming to the Sangh Parivar, a subject that you have been dealing with closely, do you think that a ban on Bajrang Dal would be the answer for a more peaceful society?
Bans do not work. According to me the Bajrang Dal and the Students Islamic Movement of India are in the same league as they both fight for their ideologies. A ban is a very minor issue. According to me, the perpetrators of violence should be put behind bars.
There are allegations that right-wing Hindu activists are involved in acts of terror. What are your views?
Yes there are reports of their involvement in acts of terror. The matter should be probed thoroughly. Muslims are being blamed for every act of terror. What we need is concrete proof and not extractions of confessions under torture.
You have written a lot about the death sentence to Afzal Guru (accused in the Parliament attack case). Both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress have been at loggerheads over hanging him. What do you think ought to be done?
The National Democratic Alliance should not forget that Afzal's mercy petition was pending before the President during their regime. They had not acted upon it at that time. Why are they blaming this government now? In my view I think Afzal Guru should be awarded a life sentence. The death penalty is not the answer here.
But is it fair? The Supreme Court has held a man guilty for an attack on the symbol of democracy -- the Indian Parliament and politicians from Jammu and Kashmir say that the state will burn if he is hanged. How can they hold the country ransom?
I see a valid point that was made by the politicians from Jammu and Kashmir regarding this issue. In 1983, Maqbool Bhat was hanged in the valley and matters took an ugly turn. Regarding Afzal Guru they were just sounding a caution and it was not a threat. There is a need to win over the hearts of the people in the valley.
What do you make of the Sangh Parivar's allegations regarding forcible conversions?
I feel that this propaganda is wrong although I must add that there are stray cases. But the answer would lie in the statistics of 1971 and 2001 census. The 1971 census showed that there were 2.6 crore Christians in India and the 2001 census says that there were 2.16 crore. This is an indication that the population has fallen and there are no mass conversions as is being alleged.
Then why is the Sangh Parivar on a rampage in Orissa?
We have been looking at Orissa closely and I must say that the Sangh Parivar is trying to suppress the voice of the Adivasis. Christian missionaries are involved in imparting education to the Adivasis and the Sangh Parivar is worried that the Adivasis may become empowered which in turn will affect their vote banks.
So according to you all Christian missionaries are saints and they are only bothered about empowering the oppressed classes in society.
I am not saying that all missionaries are saints. There are instances where they behave in an aggressive manner. But to generalise is not correct.