In Nagaland, where 90 per cent people are Christian, the all-powerful church has expressed shock over Jerusalem trips mentioned in the Congress and BJP manifestos for the February 27 assembly elections.
For church-going senior citizens of Nagaland, the upcoming assembly elections may just be a ticket to ride to Jerusalem. Four days after the Congress put a tour package in its manifesto, the BJP has bettered the offer. The BJP’s manifesto, released by union ministers Nirmala Sitharaman and Kiren Rijiju in Dimapur on Friday, promises to send 50 senior citizens each year to Jerusalem too.
Just one difference between the two manifestos: Congress said, at subsidised rates; BJP said, for free. The competitive ‘biblical tours’ offers have sparked controversy.
“The whole Jerusalem thing being totally incongruous with the spirit of democracy and secularism enshrined in the Indian Constitution, it is also an insult to people who subscribe to the Christian faith,” wrote Monalisa Chankija, Editor of Nagaland Page, an English daily. She urged the election commission to step in, calling the offers mere vote-buying gimmicks.
The all-powerful Church in Nagaland where over 90 per cent people are Christian had expressed dismay last week. But since the counter-offers became public, its tone, some claim, has been muted.
Last Sunday it held special prayers asking the devout not to vote for communal parties.
For the BJP, that has been a red flag. At the manifesto release, Ms Sitharaman said, “I am telling Nagaland, the Christian, Hindu, Muslim discrimination they talk about, BJP doesn’t do that. I want to give you that assurance. Some people are saying that if BJP comes to power, they will do this, they will do that. They are spreading fear, they are spreading such fear irresponsibly.”
She also mentioned former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and recalled how he would often say that he was born on the same day as Jesus Christ and that at the time of his birth, the church bells were ringing. “You can see how highly he thought of the Christian faith,” Ms Sitharaman added.
BJP’s new ally in Nagaland, the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party or NDPP, is matter of fact about it. Three-time former chief minister and NDPP founder Neiphiu Rio said, “Many people are capable, they have been going to Jerusalem at their own expense, but our government can come forward and facilitate those programmes. It is for the religious leaders to accept or not, but it is showing good gesture and showing their open mind and respecting their religion.”
The church — there are 2,500 of them across the state — is in shock at what it calls blatant competitive communalism.
Reverend Keyho, head of the Nagaland Baptist Church Council or NBCC which runs 1600 churches, said, “That’s just a political talk, that kind of thing can easily convince the people, trying to give a secular flavour, being friendly to other religions, but beneath the surface we have seen those kinds of things are not a secular movement but is meant to confuse the people”.
BJP-NDPP’s biggest rival is the incumbent NPF. Its chairperson Dr Shurhozolie Leizitsu is worried about the impact of such tour offers on the minds of ordinary people “I hope people will not walk into the trap, ” he said.
Will the election commission step in?
Written by Monideepa Banerjie for NDTV