Dear Barack Obama,

It was gracious of you to accept Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation to be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations on January 26. This was the day on which India adopted its Constitution, which provided for a democratic system of governance and spelt out the fundamental rights of its people. Could there have been a better backdrop for the heads of the world’s oldest and the largest democracies to engage with each other?

This backdrop appears particularly appropriate because of the tumult the two democracies are witnessing. Partly, the tumult has reached a disturbing pitch because of your and Modi’s reluctance to thwart those who challenge some of the fundamental principles of democracy.

America and tumult? Yes, Mr Obama, the tumult referred to pertains to the killing of unarmed black people by white policemen, the failure of grand juries to indict the killers, and the spilling out of people on the streets demanding justice.

Power-drunk bullies

As the world’s principal troubleshooter, you may not have had the time to read the headlines emerging from India. Therefore, you perhaps need to be told that there are outfits in India planning to reconvert Christians and Muslims to Hinduism. You shake your head and wonder, what is the crib about? People have the right to change their religion, don’t they?

Oh no, the consent of those who are to be converted will not necessarily be taken into consideration. As is alleged to have happened in Agra recently, affidavits will be furnished to prove their intent to convert, most likely secured through offers of material benefit or threats. In good many cases, we will not even know whether those proselytised were, to begin with, Christians or Muslims.

Bullies of all countries tend to go berserk as soon as they smell power. In America, bullies wear police uniforms and carry licensed guns. In India, they belong to outfits owing allegiance to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which defines itself as a cultural organisation but is in reality the power behind India’s ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party. Yes, you are right, the RSS is to the BJP what Sonia Gandhi was to Manmohan Singh. It is the habit of the RSS-affiliated outfits to torment the religious minorities as soon as the BJP comes to power at the Centre.

So a month or so before your scheduled arrival in India to watch the enthralling Republic Day parade, an RSS affiliate was busy planning to swoop down on Aligarh on Christmas to reconvert Christians, of whom there are just 10,000 there. Many of them are Dalits, whose status in India is about the same as that of black people in America. But lately, it has been decided to postpone the reconversion programme. Postponed, not cancelled, mind you.

Following in US's footsteps

You perhaps want to ask: why does the RSS want to convert people to Hinduism? Well, it has been deemed that they were forcibly converted to Christianity, and are pining to reconvert to Hinduism. Deemed? Yes, just the way your predecessor, George Bush, and you determined that the Iraqis and Libyans wished to be liberated from the dictators who ruled them.

We in India are free, but our minds remain colonised. Perhaps the RSS affiliate has borrowed the theory of liberation from Bush and you. And now our prime minister has taken to emulating your silence and inaction in the wake of deeds unjust and incendiary.

“Me, of all people, silent and indifferent?”

Unfortunately for you, Mr Obama, a large segment of the American population thinks you should have visited the towns to commiserate with the communities whose members were shot dead in cold blood. You did not visit Staten Island, where Eric Garner died even though he kept bleating he could not breathe when placed in a chokehold by a white police officer. Nor did you go to Ferguson, where an 18-year-old was shot dead. Nor to Cleveland, where a white police officer mistook the pellet gun the 12-year-old Tamir Rice was carrying for a real one and pumped bullets into him.

A neutrality that harms

Did you not decide against visiting these towns because you thought you ought to appear neutral, to not be perceived to be siding with blacks, to not incur the displeasure of the conservative white America? There are many legal experts who feel your administration did not send a strong message to prosecutors to have the guilty officers indicted by the juries. It is the prosecutors who decide what evidence jury members see and hear.

Not surprisingly then, the streets of America burst out in protest, prompting you to speak with the eloquence you are renowned for. You said the Garner case “speaks to the larger issues that we’ve been talking about now for the last week, the last month, the last year and, sadly, for decades, and that is the concern on the part of too many minority communities that law enforcement is not… dealing with them in a fair way… It’s time for us to make more progress than we’ve made. I’m not interested in talk; I’m interested in action.”

A lot many minorities in India would have thought you were speaking of their feelings about the Indian state, its brazen biased behaviour against them.

Whether or not action in America would be forthcoming is beside the point. It might still be a good idea for you to persuade Modi to borrow your words for a speech he could deliver in the context of religious conversion in India. You see, Modi did not even refer to the threats to convert Christians in the December edition of the Mann ki baat programme, which he conducts every month on the All India Radio, but before ending it he was thoughtful enough to wish everyone Happy Christmas!

Don’t you say, “It is an example of chutzpah.” It is a word every Bollywood fan understands courtesy the film Haider.

Who cares for non-Hindus

You perhaps do not believe Modi has it in him to remain silent, having witnessed firsthand the manner in which he rocked the NRI audience in New York recently. Glance at his record – he did not utter a word as his party activists went around in Uttar Pradesh objecting to Hindu-Muslim relationships, believing it is jihad through other means. A locality in Delhi rioted and he remained silent.

To think, we used to call Manmohan Singh “Maunmohan” or “Silent-Mohan”.

Oh yes, he spoke to his party MPs this week, but, ironically, only to ask them to remain silent, to not cross the Rubicon, to not divert the nation’s attention from development and good governance through their intemperate remarks. But, hell, there was not a word on conversion.

Modi’s compulsions to keep silent are inverse of yours: he does not need the votes of Muslims and Christians who, anyway, do not support him. He does not want to alienate diehard Hindus whose hero he has been ever since Gujarat erupted in 2002, which inspired your country to impose a visa ban on him. It is also possible he does not wish to anger the RSS bosses who marshalled their formidable network to help him win the 2014 general elections.

Taking AFSPA to America

Hailing from a minority community you became president and the plight of blacks has not diminished. Modi is from the majority community and the fears of the minority community have only grown. Either way, as you can see, the minorities always get it in the neck.

These aspects of democracy you and he can discuss on Republic Day. You will likely advise him to not rely unduly on preset agendas. You will cite your own experience in implementing your promise to get American troops back from abroad. “Mr Modi,” you will say in a crisp voice, “Look at the mess in Iraq, Syria and Libya, not to speak of the badlands of Afghanistan.”

You will say that despite America staging an economic recovery of sorts, its people are sending Republicans to the Senate and the House of Representatives. So throwing an arm around Modi, you will suggest that governance and development might not take him anywhere, for its gains take time to trickle down to people. Then, in a crestfallen voice, you will add, “I think I may have lost the trust of those who were most enthusiastic about my victory. Yes, my black mates, my fellow white travellers.”

All this could caution Modi, but also amuse him no end. So he might decide to explain to you the provisions of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and suggest you have it legislated in America too. With AFSPA in America, white police officers can remain trigger-happy. No compulsion to try them in court, no need for grand juries – and, therefore, no verdict to provoke the Americans to come out on the streets.

Silence and inaction are the best cure for all social illnesses. Mr Obama, you cannot understand this because you do not have a third term in office to vie for. So that is why, it can be assumed, you finally spoke. By contrast, there is no bar on the number of times Modi could become prime minister – and so, we assume, he will remain silent.

Mr Obama, hope you have a great trip to India. Oh yes, hope you deliver a great speech in India.

Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist from Delhi. His book The Hour Before Dawn will be published by HarperCollins in December-end.