Politics

Nagaland Election: Voters May Be Caught Between The Trishul, Cross, And A Hard Place

An Indian woman has her finger inked by an election worker before voting. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • Ahead of the election in Nagaland, a choice “between the cross and the trishul” is being forced on the state’s electorate.

The Congress in poll-bound Nagaland has asked voters to “choose between the cross and the trishul” and openly endorsed an appeal by the Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC) to shun the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The Nagaland Pradesh Congress Committee (NPCC) has issued a statement alleging “minorities and minority religions are suffering under BJP rule” and appealed to the people of the state to prevent Nagaland “from sinking into the Hindutva quicksand”.

The NPCC has called on its workers and supporters to vote for “secular” candidates in constituencies where it has not fielded candidates. Expressing “shock” over the newly formed Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) entering into a seat-sharing arrangement with the BJP, and the rush of people seeking tickets to contest the forthcoming assembly polls from the BJP, the Congress vowed to “stop the BJP and its alliance partners from compromising the rights of our people and our way of life”.

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The NPCC backed the Baptist Church’s appeal to the people of Nagaland to defeat the BJP and said it fully endorsed the “cross or the trishul” option (siding with the BJP would amount to choosing Hindutva over Jesus, says the NBCC) advocated by the Baptist Church.

The BJP and the NDPP have condemned the Congress for attempting to communalise the polls and rejected the charge that the BJP is anti-minority. The Congress has, in the past too, played the communal card and used the Church, especially the Baptist Church, to further its narrow political agenda. “The Congress knows it will fare very badly in the polls and this is a sick attempt by the Congress to bolster its poll prospects. But the people of Nagaland are intelligent and will choose development, which we (the NDPP-BJP alliance) have promised, over the narrow politics of religion and communalism,” said NDPP chief Neiphiu Rio.

Last week, NBCC general secretary Reverend Zelhou Keyho issued a controversial appeal to heads of political parties to sever all links with the BJP, which he termed an ‘anti-Christian party’. Keyho’s controversial statement, akin to the insidious appeal by the Gandhinagar archbishop Thomas Macwan before the Gujarat election a couple of months ago, has been shared by Christian social media groups and has found some resonance among a small section of Nagas.

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Keyho, in his written statement, starts rather grandiosely: “God has placed this burden on me that I should write to you so that you will be aware of what might happen (sic) if you are not on your guard”. The ‘Hindutva movement’, he says, has become “unprecedentedly strong and invasive” in India over the last few years and Nagaland, “as a frontline Christian majority state” (sic) has to rise and defeat the ‘Hindutva movement’.”

Keyho goes on to make wild and baseless allegations against the BJP under whose rule, he says, “pastors, evangelists and missionaries are dragged openly in the streets, harassed and insulted and made to suffer”.

“India has witnessed the worst persecution in 2015-17. Persecution has tripled in recent years,” says the leader of the Baptist Church which has often been found to be hand in glove with proscribed militant groups in northeastern states. The Baptist Church aided and abetted insurgency in Nagaland and has close links with leaders and militants of both the factions of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland. The Intelligence Bureau and other agencies have, over the decades, compiled a rich body of evidence linking the Church to militant outfits in Nagaland and other states.

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Keyho goes on: “Christian homes are destroyed, places of worship burnt down and the Bible openly burnt and confiscated”. As evidence of the BJP’s alleged anti-Christian stance, he cites the denial of visas to “NBCC church partner leaders from abroad” and takes the example of the Baptist World Alliance president Reverend Paul Msiza being refused a visa. What Keyho conveniently forgets to state is that the rules and regulations prohibiting foreign evangelists from proselytising in India, especially in the North East, were passed by Indira Gandhi and strengthened under successive Congress regimes.

The Baptist Church leader lets the cat out of the bag by lamenting thus: “Our own missionaries cannot preach or visit homes openly as they used to before the BJP came to power”. His rant is, thus, over the crackdown on foreign-funded Christian bodies and Church groups whose sole objective is to harvest souls and their inability to convert Hindus in an unhindered manner as they were doing earlier.

Keyho further said: “God must be weeping when Naga politicians are running after those who seek to destroy Christianity in India and in our land”.

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The Baptist Church leader goes on to say that safeguarding Christianity is more important than jobs, economic progress and development (the electoral planks of the NDPP-BJP). “Is your political party willing to sell Jesus for the sake of development,” he asks the leaders of non-BJP parties. The duty of Naga politicians, he elaborates, is not only working for the betterment of the Naga people, but also safeguarding “your faith”.

“Do not surrender your Christian principles and your faith for the sake of money and development into the hands of those who seek to pierce the heart of Jesus Christ to bleed and allow God to weep,” says Keyho in his blatantly communal appeal.

This is, of course, not the first time that the Baptist Church in Nagaland has involved itself in politics. In the past, too, it has issued appeals to its congregations to vote for particular candidates and parties. A lot of quid pro quo (give and take) is involved in such appeals, say people in the know. But such appeals by the Church have not always found acceptance among the electorate.

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