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'No, Thank You', Say Nagaland's Church Bodies on BJP's 'Cleanliness Drive' Offer

One of the party's own legislators from Nagaland, Imkong L Imchen, has labelled its decision as ‘stupid’.

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The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Nagaland is in the eye of a storm over its proposal to conduct 'cleanliness drives' at church premises on 11 May as a part of its 'yearly' activities.

Church bodies across the Christian-majority state have rejected the saffron party's offer, citing "the importance of maintaining separation of political agenda and religious affairs", among other things.

In fact, one of its own legislators from Nagaland, Imkong L Imchen, has criticised the decision – and labelled it as ‘stupid’.

How did the controversy erupt – and what have the church bodies said? Why else has the issue left them angry? The Quint explains.

'No, Thank You', Say Nagaland's Church Bodies on BJP's 'Cleanliness Drive' Offer

  1. 1. What Happened?

    On 27 April, Benjamin Yepthomi, the Nagaland BJP chief in a circular, directed party functionaries to carry out various programmes across 60 Assembly constituencies of the state, such as tree plantation on 4 May, as part of its 'yearly activities'.

    One of the other programmes, according to his circular, was cleanliness drives of church compounds on 11 May.

    In response to the circular, Imchen, who is Advisor for the Department of Information & Public Relations, and Soil and Water Conservation, said that the BJP should have consulted the churches before taking such a decision.

    "Undertaking cleaning activities on someone else’s property without prior consent could potentially lead to legal repercussions, akin to house trespassing under criminal law. The BJP is not supposed to nor expected to take a stupid decision."
    Imkong L Imchen

    Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a festival in state capital Kohima, he added that even if it is [backed by] the central, state, district, or any other leadership, such decisions should not be made by a political party.

    He further asserted that "since all churches are already clean, the BJP, or for that matter any other party, should not encroach on their jurisdiction without proper consultation."

    Expand
  2. 2. What Did the Church Bodies Say?

    The Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC), which is an influential and the state's biggest church body (with almost 1,500 Baptist churches under it), emphasised on the importance of maintaining a separation between political parties and religious institutions.

    In a statement, the NBCC also highlighted concerns about religious persecution and social challenges faced by minorities under the BJP in India.

    "Our pastors and priests are beaten, tortured and imprisoned giving a sense of insecurity in our country," the statement read.

    “We can only remind political parties, specifically the BJP in Nagaland, to exercise caution when issuing directions. Knowing what to say and do, as well as what is acceptable, can help to close the gap that has been growing in our state. Stay as a political party and leave the church to run whatever they see fit within their compounds,” the statement reads.

    NBCC President Reverend Dr Mar Pongener told The Quint,

    "By politely declining the BJP's gesture, we are not making a political statement, but are rather delineating the church’s autonomy. The saffron party should rather redirect its efforts towards other avenues of service."

    The Nagaland Christian Revival Church (NCRC) also declined the BJP's cleanliness drive gesture.

    In a statement issued on Wednesday, 1 May, the body implored the BJP to "respect the autonomy of religious institutions and refrain from politicising sacred spaces for partisan gain."

    NCRC President Reverend N Paphino told The Quint, "Only cleaning churches in Nagaland will be hypocritical when there are attacks taking place on Christians elsewhere in the country. The BJP should, instead, focus on protecting those Christians who have been persecuted across India rather than cleaning our compounds for the sake of campaign."

    "The church compound is a sacred space dedicated to prayer and worship, and not a political place or venue for partisan activities. Allowing such a drive organised by a political party undermines the principle of religious neutrality. Such actions blur the boundaries between state and religion, potentially alienating members of our congregation."
    NCRC President Reverend N Paphino

    He added that the body has informed all the church authorities to not permit the drive.

    Expand
  3. 3. What Else Are Church Bodies Opposed to?

    Both the church bodies – the NBCC and the NCRC – also took note of the BJP’s plans to observe the death anniversary of Jana Sangh founder Syama Prasad Mukherjee on 23 June.

    The NBCC in its statement said that the church is not accustomed to observing death anniversary, except the birth, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    It said that "the rationale behind this is because, to do so, would be to subscribe to the teaching and ideology of the person."

    It further said that political parties should not dictate to residents on what to observe or when to do things. "Political party agenda does not include these issues. Knowing the difference is wisdom,” it added.

    An assistant professor at Nagaland University, who did not want to be named, told The Quint, "The BJP's decision has backfired because they see it as the saffron party keeping a tab on them, and even monitoring their gatherings. They feel threatened. The BJP should be careful to not sow any seeds of mistrust, especially as the party is trying to insert the Hindutva narrative into an overwhelmingly Christian state. "

    In his 2023 book The Greater India Experiment: Hindutva and the Northeast, Arkotong Longkumer documented how how foot soldiers of Hindutva go about pursuing their cause in the Northeast, especially Nagaland, in multiple ways.

    He writes that unlike in mainland India, these sevaks/foot soldiers "go about their business here quietly" – and focus on service in the form of community service, running schools, etc. They "compromise on their vegetarianism and partake of meat and rice beer to gain social acceptance," he notes.

    Longkumer adds that they seek to go back to the pre-Christian past of the tribal people and find commonality between the tribes and the Hindu system in the worship of ancestors and spirits. "They bemoan the loss of indigenous practices and faiths within tribal communities and accuse Christianity of creating a rupture between culture and religion," he writes.

    Expand
  4. 4. 'Our Directive Has Been Misunderstood': What BJP Said

    The BJP has claimed that its directive has been “misunderstood”.

    Nagaland BJP spokesperson Thomas Magh told The Quint, "The directive is not an imposition on anyone. It is rather a call to party members to undertake social work at all places of worship – and not just churches. The word 'church' has been wrongly used in the circular; it should have been places of worship. We did not intend to demean any religion."

    He added that such activities and programmes are part of its yearly calendar event "with the motive to imbibe the culture of service among the party rank and file".

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

What Happened?

On 27 April, Benjamin Yepthomi, the Nagaland BJP chief in a circular, directed party functionaries to carry out various programmes across 60 Assembly constituencies of the state, such as tree plantation on 4 May, as part of its 'yearly activities'.

One of the other programmes, according to his circular, was cleanliness drives of church compounds on 11 May.

In response to the circular, Imchen, who is Advisor for the Department of Information & Public Relations, and Soil and Water Conservation, said that the BJP should have consulted the churches before taking such a decision.

"Undertaking cleaning activities on someone else’s property without prior consent could potentially lead to legal repercussions, akin to house trespassing under criminal law. The BJP is not supposed to nor expected to take a stupid decision."
Imkong L Imchen

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a festival in state capital Kohima, he added that even if it is [backed by] the central, state, district, or any other leadership, such decisions should not be made by a political party.

He further asserted that "since all churches are already clean, the BJP, or for that matter any other party, should not encroach on their jurisdiction without proper consultation."

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

What Did the Church Bodies Say?

The Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC), which is an influential and the state's biggest church body (with almost 1,500 Baptist churches under it), emphasised on the importance of maintaining a separation between political parties and religious institutions.

In a statement, the NBCC also highlighted concerns about religious persecution and social challenges faced by minorities under the BJP in India.

"Our pastors and priests are beaten, tortured and imprisoned giving a sense of insecurity in our country," the statement read.

“We can only remind political parties, specifically the BJP in Nagaland, to exercise caution when issuing directions. Knowing what to say and do, as well as what is acceptable, can help to close the gap that has been growing in our state. Stay as a political party and leave the church to run whatever they see fit within their compounds,” the statement reads.

NBCC President Reverend Dr Mar Pongener told The Quint,

"By politely declining the BJP's gesture, we are not making a political statement, but are rather delineating the church’s autonomy. The saffron party should rather redirect its efforts towards other avenues of service."

The Nagaland Christian Revival Church (NCRC) also declined the BJP's cleanliness drive gesture.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, 1 May, the body implored the BJP to "respect the autonomy of religious institutions and refrain from politicising sacred spaces for partisan gain."

NCRC President Reverend N Paphino told The Quint, "Only cleaning churches in Nagaland will be hypocritical when there are attacks taking place on Christians elsewhere in the country. The BJP should, instead, focus on protecting those Christians who have been persecuted across India rather than cleaning our compounds for the sake of campaign."

"The church compound is a sacred space dedicated to prayer and worship, and not a political place or venue for partisan activities. Allowing such a drive organised by a political party undermines the principle of religious neutrality. Such actions blur the boundaries between state and religion, potentially alienating members of our congregation."
NCRC President Reverend N Paphino

He added that the body has informed all the church authorities to not permit the drive.

0

What Else Are Church Bodies Opposed to?

Both the church bodies – the NBCC and the NCRC – also took note of the BJP’s plans to observe the death anniversary of Jana Sangh founder Syama Prasad Mukherjee on 23 June.

The NBCC in its statement said that the church is not accustomed to observing death anniversary, except the birth, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It said that "the rationale behind this is because, to do so, would be to subscribe to the teaching and ideology of the person."

It further said that political parties should not dictate to residents on what to observe or when to do things. "Political party agenda does not include these issues. Knowing the difference is wisdom,” it added.

An assistant professor at Nagaland University, who did not want to be named, told The Quint, "The BJP's decision has backfired because they see it as the saffron party keeping a tab on them, and even monitoring their gatherings. They feel threatened. The BJP should be careful to not sow any seeds of mistrust, especially as the party is trying to insert the Hindutva narrative into an overwhelmingly Christian state. "

In his 2023 book The Greater India Experiment: Hindutva and the Northeast, Arkotong Longkumer documented how how foot soldiers of Hindutva go about pursuing their cause in the Northeast, especially Nagaland, in multiple ways.

He writes that unlike in mainland India, these sevaks/foot soldiers "go about their business here quietly" – and focus on service in the form of community service, running schools, etc. They "compromise on their vegetarianism and partake of meat and rice beer to gain social acceptance," he notes.

Longkumer adds that they seek to go back to the pre-Christian past of the tribal people and find commonality between the tribes and the Hindu system in the worship of ancestors and spirits. "They bemoan the loss of indigenous practices and faiths within tribal communities and accuse Christianity of creating a rupture between culture and religion," he writes.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

'Our Directive Has Been Misunderstood': What BJP Said

The BJP has claimed that its directive has been “misunderstood”.

Nagaland BJP spokesperson Thomas Magh told The Quint, "The directive is not an imposition on anyone. It is rather a call to party members to undertake social work at all places of worship – and not just churches. The word 'church' has been wrongly used in the circular; it should have been places of worship. We did not intend to demean any religion."

He added that such activities and programmes are part of its yearly calendar event "with the motive to imbibe the culture of service among the party rank and file".

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  BJP   Church   Nagaland 

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