Of church, alliance, and clarifications

Including…lest it be said, ‘why didn’t you say this before election?’

Questions have been raised at NBCC, a church body for speaking out against a political party. It is legitimate to ask why a religious body should ‘campaign’ against a political party, especially when election is fast approaching. Some people say that the church should at the most stay at campaigning for a clean election process but not go beyond to muddy itself in political affairs of the state. Religion and politics should not be mixed is the cry of these people.

  • If the political parties were all just political parties which are for development, anti-corruption, and so on and nothing more, what NBCC as a religious body had done was wrong because it was clearly targeted against one party. It would be using religion to attack a political party.
  • If BJP doesn’t have organic link with RSS, and they are totally separate bodies; and if RSS members’ presence in various political parties is coincidental and no special linkage or influence exist with a particular party, one cannot pick and speak against a particular party because of RSS existence within it. It won’t be fair.
  • If one takes the name of NBCC and religion to covertly campaign for one political party; even if one may be speaking the truth, one’s motive would be questionable.
  • But if one party’s core agenda infringes on the constitutional right to freedom of religion unlike any other political party, the church or any right thinking citizen has the right to speak against it.
  • If BJP link with RSS is proven without doubt, that you cannot have one without the other; and they say that Bharat is only for Hindus and there is clear evidence of persecution, dominance, and using government resources and machineries to force a religious nationalist program, anyone has the right to disagree and resist persecution or dominance.
  • But if one’s conscience is clear that to speak out at this juncture is not for convenience so as to favour one’s own party, but that one would be critical of one’s own party or any party in standing up for one’s religious conviction, one can speak out without any contradiction. From that standpoint, it is possible to engage in the discourse without ulterior political motive.

There is no ambiguity about the relationship between BJP and RSS and their Hindutva proclivity. One doesn’t have to go anywhere but to the websites of BJP and RSS, and listen to the voices and see the works of their own workers. I have written at length on BJP and RSS in the light of the upcoming state election (Click here). What NBCC had done was not the church muddling in electoral politics but a stand of faith. It was not the church which overstepped itself but it was a political party which overstepped to infringe on a constitutional right of practicing one’s religion.

Another question which is equally serious is, ‘Why does the church speak now and not when BJP was with NPF?’ The question implies that the church body is not only against a political party, it is against its new alliance partner, and (more seriously) favouring a particular political party. If this is true, NBCC is in trouble for taking side and campaigning in a state election. On the first question, NBCC has the right to speak out against a political party because it believes that unlike other political parties, this party has Hindutva ingrained in it which is a threat to freedom of religion. But on favouring a political party, it would be losing its particularity as a church body and would lose the respect of believers.

Where was the church when NPF was in alliance with BJP? (They are in alliance now in Manipur). The church had spoken out against good governance day, yoga in schools etc, which are BJP government’s programs; but it must be acknowledged that the voice of the church has not been this strong before against BJP (when NPF was its partner). The new and heightened criticism of BJP by the church (NBCC resolution at Impur and General Secretary’s statement) is necessitated by recently heightened resolve of the BJP-RSS aimed at the state’s upcoming election. NBCC made reference to this fact in their statement, ‘Hindutva movement in the country has become unprecedentedly strong and invasive in the last few years with the BJP, the political wing of RSS, in power’. Since BJP came to power in 2014, cow politics, persecution of minorities, rising influence of Hindu godmen, attempts at rewriting of school textbooks, good governance day, etc have been on people’s minds. Although all these were concerns for Naga Christians, the effects were not acutely felt within the Christian majority state. And no election had been held in the state since BJP came to power at the centre. Arunachal turned saffron but there were still other neighbouring states like Assam, Manipur, and Christian majority states like Meghalaya, and Mizoram which were not under BJP rule. But when Assam and finally Manipur were taken, there was a sense that Nagaland is next in line. The biggest ever rally of the RSS in the North East was held in Guwahati on 21st January 2018 which was said to be a show of strength to galvanize support for BJP in the upcoming state election in Nagaland, Meghalaya, and Tripura. Traditional leaders from Nagaland were seen among the 40,000 crowd at the rally. Therefore, with election round the corner, if NBCC had decided to make a statement, it was to make it regardless of which regional party partner with BJP. RSS’ Hindutva movement would not have been deterred by whichever regional party BJP would alliance with. Therefore, the stand was a faith stand and favouring a party was coincidental or inadvertent by nature.

If the influence of the church’s stance should be damaging enough for the alliance partner so as to secure victory for the NPF, and if NPF were to form new alliance with BJP (which, in the words of CM TR Zeliang is still a possibility); the true test of the church will be, if it will be consistent in its stand and message.

One important follow-up question for the Christians in alliance with BJP, then in NPF and now in NDPP, is this: ‘How is it like for the NPF or NDPP to alliance with BJP with reference to RSS?’

Is voting for alliance partner the same as voting for BJP in facilitating RSS? It will help RSS for sure and if there is a choice, partnering with BJP is not the best way if one doesn’t like to promote RSS. However, alliance is not the same as joining BJP in relation to RSS. Being ‘in’ BJP is not the same as being ‘with’ BJP. NPF/NDPP alliance with BJP was/is not with the intention of promoting RSS but for obvious political reasons: to win election, to form government, to be partner with the party ruling at the centre, or for development and various reasons. Therefore, even if partnering with BJP helps RSS indirectly, the primary intention of partnering is elsewhere. Therefore, that primary lack of intention in promoting RSS ought to be credited to the alliance partner. When asked about forming alliance with saffron party which has clear Hindutva character in a Christian majority state, NDPP’s working president Alemtemshi Jamir said while talking to Firstpost, ‘BJP is a reality. You cannot simply close your eyes and wish it away’. NDPP’s alliance with BJP is ‘a means of partnership and not being dominated by BJP’. Neiphiu Rio, chief ministerial candidate of NDPP while realizing the existence of Hindutva-based ideology of BJP and justifying the concern of the church said, ‘We are only in partnership with BJP; we are not going to change our religion. We would rather fight to protect our rights, as the Constitution clearly says that it is a secular country and persons of all faith can co-exist’. He also said that there is no agreement with BJP regarding Hindutva. K.G Kenye, General Secretary, NPF and MP Rajya Sabha, also talking to Firstpost said that it is too early to say if NPF will be open to alliance with NPF again, but clarified that the partnership NPF had with BJP was not as ‘deep rooted’ as they didn’t enter into seat sharing with BJP like the NDPP.

In a pluralistic society, collaborations and partnerships with groups which don’t share similar core values in undertaking projects for the common good is unavoidable and sometimes necessary. But such working relationships can be temporal and tentative, and sustenance of the relationship is also subject to the sacrifices one is ready to make so as to maintain the ties. The implications of regional parties forging alliance with BJP, if the later should take a stronger foothold in the State following the election, are yet to be seen. So far, it would be safe to say that the BJP within the State had been largely on its own despite the presence of RSS. This however does not negate the existence of a new resolve and boldness of BJP-RSS’s Hindutva program in the region which prompted the church’s reaction.

It must be clarified that in rejecting RSS, Christians in India are not against Hinduism per se. In fact ‘orthodox’ Hindus don’t subscribe to the RSS version of Hinduism. It may be argued that Hinduism with its pantheon of gods and goddesses is a tolerant religion. Within the Hindu tradition itself, there is much diversity, one following a Hindu god, the other person following another god and so on, and they don’t have a problem with others following another faith. In fact, those people who are outside the caste system won’t be considered Hindus and they don’t have a problem if some people are not Hindus. Others may be looked down upon, but they won’t be forced to become Hindus. Instead, they may want to preserve themselves and maintain their Hindu purity. People who are outside the caste system have always been known as Adivasis. This is a recognition that there are indigenous peoples in India who were and are not Hindus. Therefore, the RSS version of Hinduism is an aberration of Hinduism.

It must be clarified that religious conversion is by choice. If one finds that another faith is more truthful and more appealing, one has the freedom to choose or change one’s religion. Christian teaching appeals to the mind and heart but does not force anyone. Christianity does not emphasize on religion by birth (although certificates may show one as a Christian), but identification as a true Christian is through the exercise of choice. Christians would try to persuade people with the teachings of one’s faith, but won’t force a person who wishes to convert to another faith. Christians believe in the propagation of one’s faith through gospel mission work. It appeals to the truth of one’s message and the clarity of motive, and does not endorse trickery, coercion, or manipulation. And so, Christianity is open to other faiths expressing similar motives of mission to propagate their religion. But it is against imposition of one’s religion, restrictions on others’ faith practices, persecution and forced conversion, and abuse of authority/government to push one’s religious agenda.

It must be clarified that BJP is not the only party which is involved in communal politics. There are various parties (including Congress party) who would appeal and appease religious groups so as to win votes and win elections. But here too, the use of religion is only a means to an end in the case of other parties while in BJP, religion is both a means and an end.

It also must be clarified that the church has been silent on the political affairs of political parties except speaking against the Hindutva movement which is deeply rooted in one party. It is not for NBCC as an organization to say that the development policy of one party is better than the other. That is for the parties to argue over so as to win people’s support. This is not to say that one’s religious convictions or religious organizations are water-tight compartments which have no relation to public life. Through works of charity, seeking justice, making peace, and speaking truth, religious organizations or people with religious convictions have much to contribute in the civil society; while doing so with care and civility.

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