Nagaland, BJP offers Christians free pilgrimages to Jerusalem: 'Political opportunism'
On February 27, the states of Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura will vote. In Nagaland, 88% of the population is Christian. The Council of Baptist Churches in Nagaland boycotts the nationalist parties and denounces violence against Christians.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) - The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu nationalist party currently in government of the Indian Union and head of 19 states out of 29, has offered the Nagaland Christians free pilgrimages to Jerusalem if it wins the elections.
The elections will take place on February 27 in the three states of Nagaland, Meghalaya and Tripura, in the extreme north-eastern part of the country. Speaking to AsiaNews, activists denounce the pre-electoral move: "It is only political opportunism to capture the votes of Christians, who represent the majority of the population here".
In Meghalaya at least 75% of the inhabitants are Christians; in Nagaland, about 88% of residents. In this last territory, 1.18 million people will vote. According to Ram Puniyani, president of the Mumbai Center for Study of Society and Secularism "the funding of pilgrimages to the Holy Land is an attempt to overcome the political difficulties that the BJP faces in the states of the north-east. Most of them have a Christian population ".
For the activist, "the BJP attitude is really hypocritical: on one hand, in Uttar Pradesh, they support the ban on cow meat [the sacred animal for Hinduism, ed]; on the other, in states such as Kerala and Goa [where there is historically strong support for Congress, ed] the nationalists remain cautious about the ban on meat consumption, or even promises more favourable conditions for [those who butcher] cattle ".
Local sources believe that the promise responds to the attempt to dispel "the fear of the Hindutva invasion" among the constituencies of the States. James Vizo, spokesman for the BJP in Nagaland, confirmed his desire to "send a group of elderly Christian citizens to Jerusalem, if our party comes to power". On the other hand Rahul Gandhi, leader of the Congress Party, in recent days also spoken of possible "travel subsidies", provided in the electoral manifesto that the party released on February 9.
The Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCCC), the largest Christian organization of the state are warning voters against activists of the Bjp and Rss (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Hindu ultra-nationalist paramilitary group), who "seduce with money and other false promises". In an open letter to all the heads of the section, the Rev. Aelhou Keyho complains that Hindu fundamentalists have become protagonists of "the worst persecution against religious minorities between 2015 and 2017". "We cannot deny - he said - that recently the Hindutva movement has become stronger and more aggressive since the BJP, the political arm of the RSS, came to power in 2014. Pastors, evangelicals and missionaries were dragged to the streets, harassed, insulted. The places of worship of minorities have been destroyed or burned ".
The outstretched hand of Hindu nationalists comes a few weeks after the decision to abolish subsidies for another religious minority, the Muslim one. The government gave the Islamic faithful help to go on the Hajj, the holy pilgrimage to Mecca. Lenin Raghuvanshi, executive director of the Peoples' Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (Pvchr) in Varanasi, comments: "I have always been in favor of suspending subsidies for any religious pilgrimage. I condemn the government for its discriminatory decision. It blocks subsidies for the Hajj, but continues to donate funds for Hindu pilgrimages such as Mansarovar Yatra. Now then this other decision in favor of Christians: it is only opportunism ". The well-known activist recalls that Jerusalem is the "holy city for three great religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Here are the most sacred places of all three cults ". Finally he points out: "The BJP government is sectarian and Islamophobic. It is well known that the subsidies granted to the Hajj end up directly in the coffers of Air India, the Indian flag carrier. It's a round of financing, with money running from one side to the other ".