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BJP's major challenge in Nagaland - Church, needs to fine tune poll strategy

Nirendra Dev *



The paradox of religiosity; is that so ?

Church is certainly an influential institute in Nagaland. The Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC) - bulk of Nagas being Baptist - is more than just a household name and it also commands a lot of influence on socio-political front in the insurgency-stricken state.

In the past, it has played key roles in establishing peace in the sixties, the NBCC virtually forced the Jamir government to introduce Total Liquor Prohibition laws and during the past decade directly and indirectly cautioned Naga voters against BJP's alleged politics of Hindu-hegemony.

This would remain a formidable challenge for the saffron party once it does not have any local influence. The 'towering' leadership of Neiphiu Rio provided that cushion - at least this is what one argument has been.

Rio since his regional avatar from 2003 also pursued anti-Congress politics and the Lotus party slowly filled in the gap - the vacuum of a 'national party'. But in months to come, Rio may no longer be its friend especially before elections.

Here comes BJP's mega challenge. Of course, a solution to the long pending Naga political issue and a successful peace pact will give PM Narendra Modi's outfit a major advantage. Importantly, it is remarked in the corridors of power that by nature Naga voters are 'grateful lot' and hence the ruling party in Delhi and Modi's leadership will be 'rewarded' suitably once peace is ensured.

Nagas have gone through decades of violence and unpredictability. Hundreds of youngsters in cities like Pune, Bengaluru and Delhi actually may prefer to stay outside the state. Hence any party that delivers peace will be embraced with warmth and bear hug - something PM Modi personally likes to display at the global stage with Pope Francis or leaders like Vladimir Putin or Donald Trump.

So Modi's bear hug or hand-holding with Naga militant leaders once peace pact comes will be a game-changer poster snap. However, the problem of Church and politics still would prevail at local-village and constituency level. In some districts - where people are over zealously religious - even in 2018 polls, the church volunteers reportedly influenced outcome in several constituencies.

This is a practical challenge and the saffron party's poll strategists in 2023 will have to fine tune the electoral moves.

In 1992, I had interviewed NBCC general secretary Pongsing Konyak. The interaction was significant as it came on certain backdrops. During Sept 6, 1991 Peace Day function at Zonal Council Hall, Kohima, the then Leader of the Opposition S C Jamir had alleged church of 'Dividing the God'.

Of course the reference was Vamuzo government's 'closeness' to a number of top church leaders. There were also doubts expressed that involving church leaders would not succeed to bring Naga underground leaders on table for talks. This was around 1991-92.

Pongsing had countered my query vehemently, "The Nagaland churches have never taken sides with any political party....The duty of Church is to serve God. It is God's desire that I am in the church, and former Chief Minister Jamir is in politics. But service and pleasing God is required in both. All we want is that they play their politics well". (Interview was published in 'Nagaland Journal, Kohima and also some publications in eastern India including 'Frontier Times' of Siliguri )

Here comes the relevance of referring to an old interview and a minor controversy. In other words, the BJP's master poll strategists in Delhi would do well to appreciate the real polity on ground zero. The hands of church will be an hidden force, the BJP candidates will have to counter.

A few years back, one senior BJP leader (now he has quit the saffron party) had told me about poll debacle for the saffron party nominees in some constituencies.

His lucid argument was - "People often said money, gun power and regionalism sentiment made Naga voters reject BJP candidates; the truth is in some places the local church influence was immense".

According to that leader, he had even shared his objective analysis with the then BJP general secretary Ram Madhav.

Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio is smart enough to understand the 'power' of hidden hands of church volunteers; and this is one area which he would using as a major bargain chip when the ball will be set rolling for elections.


* Nirendra Dev wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer is based at New Delhi and can be contacted at nirendev1(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on May 09 2022 .



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