Denying visa to Baptist Convention president may cost BJP Meghalaya polls, says Congress

Tura (Meghalaya): The reported denial of visa to the president of a worldwide alliance of Baptist churches and organisations who was to visit Meghalaya earlier this month, may cost the BJP and its ally NPP in the 27 February Assembly polls, state Congress working president Vincent H Pala has said.

The BJP and the National People's Party (NPP) are seeking to unseat the ruling Congress in Meghalaya, where Christians constitute nearly 75 percent of its three million population. The BJP, which had failed to open its account in the 2013 polls, has this time fielded 47 candidates and set an ambitious target to win 40 seats in the 60-member house in Meghalaya, which is under Congress rule for past 10 years.

The Centre had last week reportedly denied visa to Baptist Convention president Rev Paul Msiza. He was set to visit remote Rajasimila village in Meghalaya's East Garo Hills district to attend the 150th anniversary of the church in Meghalaya.

Rev Msiza did not make it to the celebrations despite the last minute calls made to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj by Union Tourism Minister K J Alphons. NPP president and MP Conrad K Sangma, too, had shot off a letter to Swaraj. The BJP had issued clarifications on the issue. "How can we say that the BJP is inclusive and will stand for everybody in the country when there is such an incident (denial of visa to Rev Msiza). The sentiments of the church have been hurt deeply," a leader of the Catholic Church said on condition of anonymity.

File image of Congress leader Vincent Pala. Firstpost/Rishiraj Bhagawati

File image of Congress leader Vincent Pala. Firstpost/Rishiraj Bhagawati

Rev Mzisa was to visit a "very important celebration of the Baptist Church and not to convert people", he said, adding that if there was any such "unfounded fear" there are government agencies to keep track of foreign visitors.

BJP state chief Shibun Lyngdoh avoided making a direct statement on the issue. He only said: "People of Meghalaya want change. They are against the misrule of the Congress."
Some other church leaders even questioned the authenticity of Conrad's letter as no official receipt by the MEA was 'seen'.

Congress veteran Pala said that Rev Mzisa was kept under surveillance when he visited the Garo Hills in the state two years ago, following which he was found to have violated the visa guidelines and was blacklisted.

Last month, Meghalaya's Catholic Church and Presbyterian Church, who have more than 15 lakh members, had declined the 'Swadesh Darshan scheme' packages launched by the Union tourism ministry for the churches in the state.

The secretary of the Parish Pastoral Council of the Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians, B Nangbah, told PTI that such packages to the Church ahead of elections "may be read otherwise as indirectly trying to bring the church into electoral politics".

The Mawkhar Presbyterian Church, a parent church of the Presbyterians in the state, too, announced that it is not a party to the decision taken by the tourism ministry and did not wish to avail the packages. The BJP campaign rallies in Meghalaya have been sparsely attended and even its president Amit Shah's rally in Shillong on Friday failed to draw a large crowd.

The Congress is going all out to defend its turf and has taken to campaign against the BJP using all platforms, including the social media. Pala said the campaign this time is different from earlier times. "We are at war. We are working day and night this time because the other parties like the NPP and the BJP are also working." The Congress has put up candidates in all 60 seats while the NPP is contesting in only 53 seats.

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Updated Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:02:14 IST

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