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Rs 70 crore conundrum

Much has been made of the Rs 70 crore promised by the NDA Government’s Tourism Minister, KJ Alphons to the churches. His idea was to turn the church precincts into tourist centres after the needed makeover. Under normal circumstances this promise would not have been taken amiss. But this is election time in Meghalaya and it is easy to misinterpret Alphon’s statements and to see it as an electoral inducement, coming as it does at this juncture. Such a faux-pas would not have happened if Alphons was properly briefed about the sentiments of people here vis-à-vis the BJP. The Party is seen as antithetical to Christian values and practices. The close links between the BJP and its social arm the RSS is undeniable. On January 21 last, Mohan Bhagwat the RSS supremo had stated in Guwahati that the aim of the RSS is to make India a Hindu Rashtra where everyone will embrace Hindutva. Such statements are sure to alienate the indigenous tribal population, some of whom follow their indigenous faith and others Christianity.
Prime Minister Modi inducted KJ Alphon into the ministry mainly to assure the Christians of Kerala that the BJP is neither anti-Christian nor anti-beef eating. Since Meghalaya is soon voting for its next government, Alphons was made the BJP’s Christian mascot in this Christian majority state. The problem with Alphons is that he has not forgotten his former avatar of the Demolition man of Delhi when he served as the Commissioner of the Delhi Development Authority in 1994. That avatar is long forgotten by the people here, many of whom have hardly heard of his exploits in Delhi. It’s a different matter that Alphons spent time as a seminarian in Shillong. But his exposure to the culture and sensitivities of the people here must have been limited for he would not have made that blatant offer of Rs 70 crore to the churches – an offer that has now backfired even as the Congress Party has turned into an electoral plank and termed that offer as a bribe by the BJP to the churches here. While the churches are not expected to be partisan they have evidently taken an anti-BJP stance to protect their interests. The attendance of church leaders in large numbers to meet Congress President Rahul Gandhi recently reveals their anxiety and the fact that they look to the Congress Party to fight their ideological battle with the Hindutva brigade. Whether this works remains to be seen. Should the church not have remained neutral is a question many are asking.

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