In keeping with its electoral promise, the People’s Democratic Alliance (PDA) government, of which BJP is a major partner, has announced the introduction of a new programme called ‘Holy Land tours and pilgrimages’. But the Church is not impressed. Presenting the maiden budget of the new dispensation, Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, who also holds the finance portfolio, announced that detailed guidelines will be set up to enable citizens to visit the ‘Holy Land’. Once such guidelines are in place, the government will part-sponsor the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
In the run up to the 13th Nagaland Legislative Assembly election, religion had for the first time emerged as a major electoral plank. BJP faced flak from church leaders who cautioned people against what they perceived as the party’s Hindutva agenda. To counter the ‘anti-Christian’ tag and woo voters in the Christian dominated state, the saffron party promised trips to Jerusalem if it was voted to power. In it’s manifesto, the BJP had promised to ‘set up senior citizen board which will annually select around 50 members through lucky draw for a free trip to Holy Land of Jerusalem.’ Before BJP, the Congress in its manifesto had assured to set up a board ‘to facilitate minorities to visit Holy Land at a subsidised cost.’
The Nagaland Joint Christian Forum (NJCF) and the Nagaland Baptist Churches Council had taken umbrage to the promises of financially supporting the pilgrimage and said such promises were not in sync with the secular ethos of the country. Speaking to indianexpress.com two days after the chief minister’s announcement, vice president of NJCF Rev. Dr Neikedozo Paphino, who is also the president of Nagaland Christian Revival Churches Council, categorically said, “we will not avail the package.”
Substantiating on Forum’s stand, the theologian pointed out the persecution and harassment being faced by Christians in many parts of the country. “So many churches and believers are facing persecution and humiliation. If we enjoy such privileges having a political advantage, it will wrong our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted.”
Moreover, Rev. Paphino felt, the government should focus on the developmental front and judiciously use public fund instead of providing free or subsidised trips to the “Holy Land.” “The government has so many things to do for the public on developmental front, for example the road conditions due to which the public is horribly struggling (sic).”
“If government really wants to help the needy and elderly to go to Jerusalem, we have no objection. But we would be more happy if the government takes care of the downtrodden, those who are struggling.”
The NJCF vice president felt that those who really wants to go to the “Holy Land”, should struggle for that and not seek the easy route. The Nagaland Joint Christian Forum comprises of Assembly of God (AG), Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC), Nagaland Catholic Association (NCA), Nagaland Christian Revival Church (NCRC), Nagaland Pentecostal Church (NPC) and Salvation Army (SA).
The NBCC too had earlier said the offer was “political in nature” and people in Nagaland are “unfazed” by it.
‘The Holy Land’ spreading through present day Israel, Palestine and adjoining areas, is revered by Christians as the place in which Jesus Christ lived and taught, and many sites are designated as sacred pilgrimage destinations for the believers.