NEW YORK - A leading American newspaper has laid the blame squarely on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his militant Hindu-nationalist supporters’ campaign to convert Muslims and Christians to Hinduism, and asked him to end the “divisive’ move.

“Mr Modi must break his silence and issue a stern warning to emboldened Hindu militants before their actions turn further progress on economic reform into a sideshow, with the politics and divisiveness occupying centre stage,” The New York Times said in an editorial: Religious Intolerance in India.

The campaign to convert Muslims and Christians to Hinduism is being conducted by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad - groups dedicated to transforming India into a Hindu state. “Hope is in danger of crumbling that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would rein in the divisive agenda of his militant Hindu-nationalist supporters and allow India to concentrate on the important work of economic reform, and the blame lies squarely with Mr Modi,” the newspaper said.

In recent weeks, the Times noted that Hindu militants engineered mass conversions of Muslims and Christians in Agra and in the states of Gujarat and Kerala through a combination of intimidation and bribery, including the promise of food ration cards. “Attacks on Christians and their places of worship have intensified in recent weeks. One of New Delhi’s biggest churches burned down on Dec. 1 - arson is being blamed - and Christmas carollers were attacked on their way home in the city of Hyderabad on Dec 12,” it said.

“More than 80 percent of Indians are Hindus, but Muslims, Christians and Sikhs form important religious minorities with centuries of history in India. Religious pluralism and freedom are protected by India’s Constitution. The issue of religious conversion is contentious in India. Many Dalits, known formerly as untouchables, and other low-caste Hindus and Tribals admit they convert to Islam or Christianity primarily to escape crushing caste prejudice and oppression. The main architect of the Constitution, Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, born a Dalit, famously converted to Buddhism to escape caste-oppression under Hinduism.”

From monitoring desk: Senior NCP leader Tariq Anwar Sunday accused Narendra Modi of reneging on his pre-poll promises and implementing the RSS agenda.

“The Prime Minister had made many promises to the people during general elections, but he seems to have forgotten all and is busy with implementing the RSS agenda only,” Anwar told reporters here.

“Attempts have been made and conspiracies hatched to destroy the unity and integrity of the country and communal harmony by the BJP and the Sangh Parivar outfits who follow divisive and communal agendas to further their sectarian interests,” Anwar said.

He condemned RSS affiliated outfits for glorifying Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse and constructing a temple in Uttar Pradesh’s Sitapur district to honour him as a “deity” and launching re conversion programme across the country. Anwar expressed fear that the country’s future would be jeopardised if such activities were not opposed tooth and nail. The NCP leader further accused BJP of indulging in manipulation to form a government headed by it in Jammu and Kashmir and claimed that the results of assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand showed that BJP was steadily losing its ground.

Meanwhile, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has said an anti-conversion law should be framed to check conversion and appealed all political parties to think over it “seriously”. “I think that to check conversion, an anti-conversion law has to be framed. All political parties should think over it seriously,” he said. The Union minister was in Lucknow to attend the platinum jubilee function of a girls college.

On the opposition parties’ demand for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement on the issue of conversion, Singh said: “They should understand that statement of any minister was the government’s side.”

Former Union minister and MP Jyotiraditya Scindia had demanded that the Prime Minister should make a statement in Parliament about his government’s stand on the issue of religious conversions by some organisations.