Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears to have given the Bharatiya Janata Party in Meghalaya an idea for shaking off the anti-Christian tag – the rescue of missionaries from terrorists in West Asia.
Labelled by principal rival Congress as a ‘hardcore Hindu party’ with a divisive agenda, the BJP had been struggling to dovetail its Hindutva image with a pro-minority face. The challenge stiffened after the beef ban controversy last year and attacks on missionaries and churches in the ‘mainland’, primarily northern India.
Prior to the polls, the Congress had launched a campaign branding the BJP as a party that would impose Hindutva on Christians if it comes to power in Meghalaya. Christians form 75% of the state’s population and a majority of the people consume beef.
The Congress also pounced on the denial of visa to Johannesburg-based Baptist World Alliance president Ngwelda Paul Msiza last month for the celebration of 150 years of Christianity in the state’s Garo Hills.
“The BJP lacks interest for the Christians. It has an agenda against cultures and food habits that don’t fit a certain narrative,” Chief Minister Mukul M Sangma said at a rally in Garo Hills.
BJP candidates have been trying hard to “dispel myth” about the party being Satanic for the Christians.
“I have been telling people that the BJP is a political party and not a religion, and that if it forms a government, Christians like us will have a say. In that case, Christians and other minorities have nothing to fear,” Billykid A. Sangma, BJP candidate for the South Tura seat, said.
BJP's pro-Christian steps
But party leaders agree Mr. Modi’s focus on pro-Christian steps taken by the BJP-led government at the Centre, such as securing the release of Christian missionaries from ISIS captivity, have make it easier for them to relate to people in the villages.
“People at the grassroots level are least bothered by the beef ban and such issues. They want development and rejuvenation of the local economy destroyed by the ban on mining. But yes, the rescue of missionaries by India from terror-troubled foreign lands is helping us allay fears about the BJP being anti-Christian,” said Haka Lyngdoh, BJP’s social media handler in Meghalaya.
During his rallies in Meghalaya, Mr. Modi focussed on the rescue of Christian nurses and missionaries from West Asia to underscore the secular outlook of BJP.
“We helped rescue 46 nurses from Kerala when terrorists abducted them in Iraq. We rescued Father Alex Premkumar from captivity in Afghanistan and Father Tom from Yemen,” Mr. Modi said at a rally in Phulbari.