Kohima: In Nagaland, where nine out of 10 people are Christian, political parties are racing to offer the devout a sop they can't refuse. The Congress has already gone and done it in its manifesto on Monday. The BJP suggested the idea in a recent vision document and is likely to make a better offer tomorrow when it is set for release.
The offer -- a visit to the holiest of holy lands for the faithful, Jerusalem.
For any church going senior citizen in Nagaland with a slim bank balance but a longing to go to Jerusalem, these elections may just be the ticket. In its manifesto, the Congress says, "By an act of the state government, a board will be established to facilitate minorities to visit the Holy Land Jerusalem at a subsidised cost."
If that sounds good, hold on. BJP may better the offer. A vision document -- the state BJP says two to three years old but the document says 2018 -- promises to set up a senior citizen board too, and, "every year, through lucky draw, around 50 members will be sent to Holy Land Jerusalem Tour". And, hold your breath, the tour will be free of cost.
The proposal is most likely to find a prominent place in the BJP manifesto set for release on Thursday. The church -- there are 2,500 of them across the state -- is in shock at what it calls blatant competitive communalism.
Reverend Keyho, head of the Nagaland Baptist Church Council or NBCC which runs 1600 churches, said, "That's just a political talk, that kind of thing can easily convince the people, trying to give a secular flavour, being friendly to other religions, but beneath the surface we have seen those kinds of things are not a secular movement but is meant to confuse the people".
But the BJP and its new ally in Nagaland, the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party or NDPP, are matter of fact about it. Three-time former chief minister and NDPP founder Neiphiu Rio said, "Many people are capable, they have been going to Jerusalem at their own expense, but our government can come forward and facilitate those programmes. I think it is for the religious leaders to accept or not, but it is showing good gesture and showing their open mind and respecting their religion."
"That is the aspiration and that is the demand of the people. It is not fully religious, it is for all the aged who wanted to visit the holy land. Being a Christian state, that is also part of our mission that we want to fulfill the desires of our people," BJP's state chief Visasolie Lhoung told NDTV.
The incumbent Naga People's Front (NPF) manifesto of early February has no Jerusalem tour offer. "Naga people are really simple people, and therefore anybody can with sugar-coated words and false promises sometimes mislead the people. We don't want our people to fall into those traps," said NPF chairman Dr Shurhozolie Liezietsu.
Haj subsidy was recently stopped by the BJP at the centre and some Muslim leaders have expressed outrage. Meanwhile, Kohima's fate has suddenly become linked to Jerusalem some 5000 miles away.