Christians constitute more than 85 per cent of the population of Nagaland and over 75 per cent in Meghalaya. The two northeastern states face assembly election on February 27.
As campaigning for elections peaks, the Congress is being accused of indulging in appeasement of Christians in the two states.
An election rally was held at Diphupar Village Public Ground in Nagaland on February 21. Congress president and leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Khargeparty’s “senior-most” general secretary and Rajya Sabha MP in-charge of Nagaland Mukul Wasnik and All India Congress Committee (AICC) in-charge of Nagaland Ajoy Kumar addressed the rally.
Congress MP Rahul Gandhi addressed an election rally in Meghalaya’s capital Shillong on February 22. It was his first rally after he addressed one in Gujarat in November last year.
All the four leaders sought to please the majority Christians and attacked the rival BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah.
While Rahul talked about protecting the “religion” of the people of Meghalaya, Kharge discussed the attack on Christians in the last 11-12 years and the contribution the community has made in the education sector.
Kumar exhorted the people to listen to the church and the appeal by Naga Baptist Council in favour of the Congress.
Alleging appeasement of Christians, BJP national spokesperson in-charge of Nagaland Nalin Kohli told TOI that it was a deliberate move on the part of the Congress. “The Congress party has no presence on the ground in Nagaland and that is why its leaders are deliberately adopting an agenda of disinformation and abuse against the BJP and its leadership,” he said.
Kohli further said, “They (the Congress leaders) are unable to counter the BJP’s positive agenda of development as implemented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government at the Centre and our coalition government led by Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio in the state.”
However, the Congress denies that any sort of appeasement is taking place. Talking to TOI, party general secretary Tariq Anwar said, “Nothing of the sort is happening. There is no appeasement of any community. If atrocities take place, we will surely speak. There is nothing wrong with it. Congress raises issues concerning all communities.”
Asked to comment on Ajoy Kumar’s statement about Naga Baptist Council’s appeal, Anwar said, “I do not know about that.”
The former Congress president talked about the “religion” of the people of Meghalaya five times in his 20-odd-minute speech.
“You have your own culture, your traditions, your religion, your history. The reason I am here is because the ideology of the BJP, and specifically the RSS, is trying to attack and destroy your culture, your tradition, your religion. I am here to tell you that we are standing with you in this fight. We are not going to allow the ideology of the BJP to harm your language, your tradition, your religion, your culture, your history,” he said amidst cheers from the crowd.
The Lok Sabha MP from Wayanad in Kerala further said, “If I was to come here, like the prime minister does, and put on this jacket, then attack your religion, attack your culture, attack your history, attack your language, I would be insulting you.”
Rahul ended his speech by mentioning the religion of the people one last time. “To conclude, I would repeat, we are here to defend your culture, to defend your language, to defend your religion,” he said.
In his speech, Kharge praised the Christian missionaries. He said the people and doctors of Nagaland are good. “They are good because the missionary schools in Nagaland are imparting quality education. Otherwise, Modi closed 71,000 schools. Therefore, you will not find a single doctor, engineer, skill-developed person or expert.”
The Congress president alleged that 500 attacks have taken place on the Christian community since 2021.
He blamed the BJP for destroying constitutional institutions but still sending their children to study in English-medium schools run by Christians.
Kharge said, “These people (BJP leaders) are breaking institutions. The Christian community imparted education to several people. They (BJP leaders) abuse, attack and make allegations against the Christians but all their children come to convent school only. Wherever you go, not in Nagaland, (and ask) where are your children studying? (The BJP leaders will reply) St John’s. Somebody will say other names such as St Stephen’s. It means they want good education in English medium schools of Christians. But they always blame (the Christians).”
AICC leader in-charge of Nagaland Ajoy Kumar sought to please the churches while simultaneously attacking the ruling BJP-Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) alliance government in the state.
The former Lok Sabha MP started by alleging that all the money that the BJP and the NDPP were distributing was from their roads and hospitals which were not constructed. “It is from your medical college. They are not doing you a favour. It is the responsibility of the people of Nagaland to understand this. Nobody is distributing money because they like you. They are distributing only one per cent of the money they have stolen from all the hundreds and thousands of crores from your roads, from your hospital, from your high court and from your stadium.”
He said a few days back, one of the Congress functionaries from Delhi went to Mokokchung. The Naga Women’s Association were checking for people whether they were carrying liquor.
Bringing in the church, Kumar said, “So, this is a state where the church is saying that you must have clean politics. Because the future of your children, bad schools, bad hospitals and bad roads, no medical or cancer treatment, is because the leaders of the BJP and NDPP have stolen your money in thousands of crores and given you hundred rupees.”
He next brought a Christian organisation’s name in the speech to appeal to Christians to vote for the Congress. “The Congress party, in its DNA, is for a secular nation. And when the Naga Baptist Council makes an appeal, then please listen to them,” he said.
Kumar alleged that the BJP’s ideological parent RSS was trying to change the nature of the church committees by sneaking into them. “The RSS has started entering your church committees. They are trying to change the church committees and the nature of people,” he said.
After the BJP and RSS, Kumar attacked Union home minister Amit Shah. “How can Mr Amit Shah tell you anything when they attack people of different religions across India. How dare he come to Nagaland and say we believe in all religions and all religions are equal? They attack people of different religions every day,” he said.
The Congress’s “senior-most” national general secretary and in-charge of Nagaland Mukul Wasnik alleged that the BJP was against the constitutional principles of secularism and the freedoms to eat, drink and dress as one wanted.
The Rajya Sabha MP said, “Sometimes I do feel very concerned that how can parties like the NDPP share seats with a party like the BJP. What is the BJP after all? Does the BJP obviously believe in the ideals of the Constitution of India? Does it believe in socialism? Does it believe in democracy? Does it believe in secularism?”
Wasnik further said, “Look at their politics. They believe in one nation. They believe that this nation should have only one religion. They believe that there should be only one language and that should be only Hindi. They believe that people should wear only those clothes which the BJP wants. They will decide what we should eat, what we should drink. They will decide what movie we should go for and they will decide what songs we should be singing.”
He said India has a composite culture. The country has all shades of the rainbow. “But BJP believes in only colour and that is against the composite culture which the Constitution of India believes in,” he added.