Nagaland Election: BJP confident its Hindutva thrust will not impact party's prospects in Christian-majority state

Can a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader be a good Naga Christian at the same time? Or are the two identities contradictory to each other?

Kangkan Acharyya February 14, 2018 13:35:11 IST

Can a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader be a good Naga Christian at the same time? Or are the two identities contradictory to each other? It's a question K James Vizo, one of the senior-most BJP leaders in Nagaland, has been facing for the last 18 years. The questions have, in fact, taken the shape of a sustained campaign against the BJP after the Nagaland Baptist Church openly came out against the saffron party and appealed to the voters to cast their votes against BJP given its pro-Hindutva leanings.

In an address to all political parties, NBCC general secretary Reverend Dr Zelhou Keyho said, "We cannot deny that the Hindutva movement in the country has become unprecedentedly strong and invasive in the last few years with the BJP, the political wing of the RSS, in power. 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 working tooth and nail to make its presence known and seen in Nagaland, the frontline of the Christian majority state in the country. Have you ever seriously questioned their intention? If you have not, do not be fooled."

Vizo, however, has a different take on the issue. He says the BJP is not new to Nagaland, as it began its state chapter in the year 1987 and won seven MLAs on its own in the 2003 Assembly polls. "Why did this campaign not emerge at that time? How has it emerged only now?" he asked.

Nagaland Election BJP confident its Hindutva thrust will not impact partys prospects in Christianmajority state

Representational image. Reuters

His theory is that the BJP wasn't seen as a contender for power until recently. But that has changed now. "The BJP's rise to prominence has induced fear in the ranks of its political rivals, who have made attempts to create a fear psychosis in the minds of people. This campaign is an outcome of this," he said. He added that when people learn this reality, they understand and join hands with the party.

Since the year 2003, BJP has been in an alliance with the Naga People's Party (NPF). The relationship between the two soured after the saffron party supported Chief Minister TR Zeliang when its regional ally was going through a phase of dissidence last year. This dissidence had caused the NPF to split into two — one faction led by Zeliang's camp, and the other by party president Shurhozelie Liezietsu.

Soon after this, a beef fest was organised in Kohima by the section of NPF loyal to the Liezietsu camp, which was seen as a message to be conveyed to the BJP.

Interestingly enough, however, while the BJP has been pushing its Hindutva agenda in other parts of the country, it appears to have acknowledged that Christian majority Nagaland requires a change of strategy. More than 80 percent of the hill state's population is Christian, and the BJP has decided to let Hindutva take a backseat here.

So while the cattle slaughter ban was rolled back in other states last year, it was never implemented at all in Nagaland. M Abu, a youth BJP leader, told Firstpost that the beef ban which was imposed last year in other states didn't even register a trace in Nagaland, and wasn't prominent enough to influence voting patterns.

"It was declared by the central leadership of the party that the beef ban will not be imposed in the North East. The BJP has been in an alliance with the ruling NPF for the last three terms in the Nagaland Assembly. But we haven't come across any communal move by the party. This is proof that the BJP isn't against Christians," Abu said.

But what about the drive to ban beef in other parts of the country, and what about BJP's thrust on Hindutva every where else? Don't these cause insecurity among the citizens of Nagaland? The party's leadership is quick to deny this. "This is a view that people from mainland India have about the North East," said P Paiwang Konyak, Nagaland transport minister, and the lone BJP MLA who won a nomination ticket in 2013.

The party currently has four MLAs, but three out of them are legislators who defected from the Nationalist Congress Party. "Has the BJP told the Nagas to compromise on their faith or culture? No, it hasn't. BJP is a political and not a religious party. We are continuously showing the people this reality, and a large section of the people has understood it well," he said.

He also claimed assertively that some people in mainland India still think that people of the North India will not connect with the BJP. "This is not true. People here know that BJP is the only party which is showing commitment to solve the main issue faced by the Nagas: The political movement led by many groups, including the NSCN(IM). Should not this be enough to convince the Nagas that the BJP is genuinely committed to them?" he asked.

The ceasefire agreement was signed with NSCN(IM) in 1997, when HD Deve Gowda was Prime Minister of India. It was seen as the Government of India's recognition to the demand of nationhood raised by the Nagas. The BJP-led government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee that came to power at the Centre in 1998 not only extended this further but also recognised the unique history of the Nagas.

On a visit to Nagaland as prime minister, Vajpayee is reported to have said, "Of all the states in India, Nagaland has a unique history. We are sensitive to this historical fact."

Vizo, who joined the BJP after this rally, said Vajpayee was the first Indian prime minister to acknowledge the Nagas' unique history. He added that Vajpayee also announced financial assistance for the state, which wasn't something his successor Manmohan Singh did. "Despite being an MP from Assam, a neighboring state, Manmohan Singh did not visit Nagaland once in 10 years. This shows the level of commitment of the Congress to Nagaland," he said.

He further hoped that people will not vote for anything but success of the peace process initiated by the Centre. "We hope people will form a stable government to ensure that the ongoing peace process gets the undivided attention of the Centre and the state," he said.

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