The Christian church, allegedly egged on by the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) erstwhile ally - the Naga People's Front (NPF) - has launched a vicious and highly communal campaign that paints the BJP as a ‘Hindu’ party that will destroy Christianity. The campaign is aimed at boosting the electoral prospects of the non-BJP parties (except the newly-formed Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party, with which the BJP has entered into an electoral alliance).
The Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC), which has long been suspected of having strong links to separatist militant outfits and the Congress, took the lead a few weeks ago by issuing a highly communal appeal to voters to reject the BJP (read this article) and choose between the “cross and the trishul”. Had a Hindu religious body issued such a statement, the Congress and the left-liberal cabal in the country would have been up in arms. But the NBCC’s communal appeal, which also violated election rules, evoked no protest.
In fact, the Congress and the NPF have leveraged and repeated this appeal ad nauseum to drive fear in the minds of the voters that if elected to power, the BJP-NDPP (Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party led by veteran Naga politician Neiphiu Rio) would “ban Christianity”. The campaigns of various Congress and NPF leaders, including Congress leaders like Gaurav Gogoi, highlighting this NBCC statement and appealing to voters to reject the ‘Hindutva’ party, has reinforced suspicions of a Congress hand behind the NBCC.
Nagaland is an overwhelmingly Christian majority state and unabashedly proclaims itself to be a 'Christian state'. Hoardings and banners proclaiming 'Nagaland For Christ' greet all visitors and all candidates are loudly proclaiming themselves to be Christian and falling over each other to reinforce their Christian identity. All candidates have promised to protect Christianity and safeguard the interests of the church which, ironically, has not always safeguarded the country's interests. All election meetings start with an invocation by a local pastor.
The BJP has lodged a number of complaints with the Election Commission against the highly communal nature of the Congress and the NPF election campaigns. The NPF, which had been happily aligned with the BJP till very recently, has been in the forefront of accusing the BJP of trying to promote Hinduism over Christianity. NPF leaders have, in their campaign speeches, been alleging that the BJP has a hidden agenda of promoting conversions of Christians to Hinduism. Why they happily kept up with this 'hidden agenda' for so many years is a vital question that they choose not to answer.
NPF leader and former chief minister Shurhozelie Liezietsu has been telling voters that the BJP has a larger agenda of declaring India a 'Hindu rashtra' where all non-Hindu parties will be banned. "If the BJP comes to power in this Christian state, they (the BJP) will tell the rest of the world that since Christian Nagaland has voted for BJP, Christians want to convert to Hinduism and then they will force us into paganism. Our faith is destined to die and very soon, Nagaland will stop being the abode of Christ and will become the den of anti-Christ where idols will be worshipped and the heathen will rule," Shurhozelie told a group of youth leaders and social activists in state capital Kohima a couple of days ago. He added that he broke off the alliance with the BJP (in reality, it was the other way round) when he "realised the danger to Christians and Christianity" posed by the party.
The campaign of other NPF leaders and candidates has been more vicious and communal. The Congress is also not far behind and has been whipping up communal passions. In the presence of Christian priests and church elders, Congress candidate for Dimapur 3 constituency, Khaminlung Tunglong, is reported to have told a gathering of voters in Mokokchung town that all churches would be demolished or converted into Hindu temples if the BJP-NDPP is voted to power. The BJP, he said, is a Hindu party that will make Hinduism a "compulsory faith" in India.
Other Congress leaders have merrily mouthed more wild allegations. Gaurav Gogoi, son of former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, called on the "Christian voters" of Nagaland to take the lead in wiping out the "Hindu party" from India. Hindutva, Gogoi said, poses a grave threat to the country's unity and secular values as well as to minorities. He also repeated the false charge that the BJP will force all Christians to become Hindus.
It is not only the BJP, but also the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), against which such vicious smear campaigns are on. In their enthusiasm to criticise the BJP and RSS and appear to be more Christian than their rivals, many NPF and Congress candidates and leaders have ended up mocking and insulting Hindu god's and goddesses, Hindu rituals and religious practices, Hinduism and Hindus themselves. All Congress candidates are derisively referring to Hindus and pagans and heathens.
"We have to defeat the BJP in Nagaland and then from the rest of India. Once the Congress comes to power, the church will become strong and soon India will become a Christian country. All heathens will then follow the path shown by the lord," a NPCC vice president Khutovi Sema reportedly told a gathering in the presence of an All India Congress Committee observer very recently. NPF candidate from Tehok constituency, C L John, while addressing a small election rally earlier this week, said the defeat of the BJP in Nagaland would also result in the BJP getting weak and eventually being thrown out of power in India. "And then, the process of making the pagans see the good path of Lord Jesus, will start. The church will become strong and so will Christianity. And all non-believers will then be salvaged," he said.
President of the Nagaland Pradesh Congress Committee Kewekhape Therie issued a statement on Thursday asking people to install a "god-fearing secular minded government that will salvage Nagaland's society from transforming into Hindutva" (sic). He also appealed to the people not to vote for "Hindutva mission". "Do not cast your vote for the persecutors of Christians" and alleged the BJP "stands for a uniform civil code" which, according to Therie, is "one nation, one religion, one law, one tax".
The BJP has been making strenuous efforts to counter this hate campaign. From reiterating that all its candidates are practising Christians to indulging in competitive populism by offering free trips to Jerusalem (to counter the Congress promise of subsidising pilgrimages to Jerusalem), the BJP is going out of its way to court the electorate. BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav praised Christian missionaries for their pioneering efforts in setting up educational institutions in the region. Other BJP leaders have taken care to praise the positive works of the church. But, admit BJP leaders, the task of neutralising the campaign is not an easy one.
BJP leaders suspect the Congress is behind this anti-BJP campaign. "The Congress is desperate to return to power in Nagaland after being out in the wild for so long. It is important to understand the reason for the Congress' desperation. The Congress has always looked upon the Northeastern states as good sources of filling its party coffers. A substantial portion of the funds that used to flow into this region as grants and aid for development projects used to be siphoned off to not only line the pockets of local politicians, but would also go back to the AICC headquarters in Delhi. With its coffers running dry after losing power in so many states, the Congress knows it needs to have Northeastern states in its kitty to replenish its fast-depleting coffers," said a BJP leader.
BJP leaders also point out that had such a communal campaign taken place in any other state, there would have been a national outcry. "Imagine what would have happened if the BJP would have conducted such a communal campaign or criticised and mocked one community or a faith. Awards would have been returned and India would have been declared unsafe for minorities. What is happening is nothing short of Hindu-bashing and there is not a murmur of protest outside Nagaland. It is as if Hindu-bashing is kosher," said a BJP leader in Kohima.
The anti-BJP campaign has been especially high-pitched in the social media. False allegations and a lot of lies about the BJP and RSS starred doing the rounds since a couple of months now. Most of such messages originated from Congress activists and people with close links to the church, especially the Baptist Church. "We have found out that the social media offensive against us is part of an elaborate conspiracy hatched by the Congress and the church. We have also found out that the Congress got one section of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) leadership on board," said the BJP leader. Last week, a voice recording of a conversation purportedly between two senior Central BJP leaders discussing a strategy to force Christians to convert to Hinduism went viral. The audio clip was proved to be a false one, but that did not stop the Congress from circulating it.
A BJP leader from New Delhi, who visited Nagaland to help the party’s election campaign, told Swarajya: “The vicious communal propaganda and the hate being spread against the BJP and Hinduism is shocking. And it is not only unfortunate, but a telling commentary on the hypocrisy of the so-called secular media and political parties at the national level who have not only chosen to ignore the communal propaganda and hate, but are aiding in spreading it. The BJP is branded as communal if we even mention the influx of Bangladeshi Muslims and the dangers posed by it. But here, the Congress and the church spread false fears and launch a communal campaign against us and everyone else remains silent”.
Thankfully, not everyone has been taken in by the communal canards. A counter-campaign against this campaign has already started in the social media and many are openly questioning the communal campaign.
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