Ahead of polls, Nagaland Baptist Church Council says BJP must declare itself secular, answer questions on Hindutva

With a network of more than 1,500 churches, the Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC) is among the state's most formidable religious organisations. The NBCC wields tremendous clout both in the government and social life. Reverend Zelhou Keyho, general secretary of NBCC, in an exclusive interview with Firstpost, appealed to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to declare itself secular. He also stated that the BJP has to answer questions related to its Hindutva connection.

Representational image. AP

Representational image. AP

This declaration is Keyho's second statement on the saffron party after the Nagaland election was announced. Earlier, he told political parties to question the intent of the BJP.

“We cannot deny that the Hindutva movement in the country has become unprecedentedly strong and invasive in the past few years with the BJP, which is the political wing of the RSS. This fact cannot be denied no matter how hard you try to convince the innocents. You also cannot deny that the party in power at the Centre is fighting tooth and nail to make its presence known and felt in Nagaland, the Christian-majority state in the country. Have you ever seriously questioned their intentions? If you have not, do not be fooled,” Keyho had said.

Soon after the general secretary’s first statement, the BJP went on the defensive, claiming it was a political ploy. BJP state president Visasolie Lhoungu said, “We have been in alliance with the ruling NPF for so many years, never before has the Church come out with any such statement or propaganda against the BJP. We fail to understand why such a statement has been made after we allied with Nationalist Democratic People’s Party (NDPP).

Edited experts of Keyho's interview follow:

The BJP has been in alliance with the ruling Naga People’s Front (NPF) for the past 15 years. Why the fear about Hindutva aggression now?
It cannot be denied that the RSS is behind the BJP. RSS is a religious movement. When a political party is backed by a religious party, the tendency of a society losing its secular nature arises. There is evidence of this: Other parts of India have witnessed such signs over the past few years. It is important for the BJP to come out and address the issue and declare that it is a secular party. Speaking about the BJP's long standing alliance with the NPF, I would say that the future need not always reflect the past. Whenever we want to do something new, the past becomes a stumbling block. The BJP and the NPF had a working relationship, but I'd like to ask why the Naga are making alliances their priority? Don’t we have an originality? We're losing the originality of our political movement.

Neiphiu Rio, leader of the newly-formed NDPP, said he will protect the rights and faith of the Naga. Does that satisfy you?
I appreciate his statement and hope that he will keep his word, whether or not he comes to power. These statements will ease the apprehension of voters.

Have you also sensitised people about your apprehensions regarding the BJP’s Hindutva agenda in Nagaland through the NBCC's network of churches?
We are not against the BJP as a political party. But the involvement of the RSS and the Hindutva movement makes us worry. So we have said that persecution has taken place in other parts of India and we should look at the bigger picture. We are in a comfortable position in Nagaland because we are a Christian-majority state. We see in the media places of worship being destroyed and minorities being harassed. We need to be a voice for the minorities of the nation as well. But we've made it clear that we are not against the BJP, but against the RSS.

The NBCC has been advocating for clean election. But despite this campaign, it seems votes are being bought and sold. Why has this campaign not been effective?
It is an uphill battle. The mess we've created is not the result of one or two decades. The rot inside society goes deep. But there are rays of hope in some areas. However, it's difficult to overcome the challenge. When the election arrives, the commitment to society and good moral standards we've set for ourselves is often forgotten.

Give us an example...
The Nagaland media says political parties are bribing voters up to Rs 20,000 per person. The blame does not lie only with politicians. If the people don't ask for bribes, they wouldn't be given bribes. Voters must take their share of the blame. As long as votes are bought and sold, the troubles of our society will continue.

Do you fear your move against Hindutva, like your appeal for a clean election, may not be very effective?
We're trying to make a point. I hope people will listen. India has to maintain its secular fabric. We are only asking people to use their God-given conscience while voting. We've never said vote or don't vote for someone. We've only raised apprehensions. Everything is in God's hands.

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Updated Date: Mar 03, 2018 07:56 AM

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