Updated: February 12, 2020 03:03 AM GMT
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) waves to the public during a public rally to celebrate the tripartite Bodo Peace Accord in Kokrajhar of the northeastern state of Assam on Feb. 7. (Photo: Kulendu Kalita/AFP)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Assam state last week to celebrate his government signing a peace agreement with Bodo tribal people, who have been fighting for a separate homeland for over four decades.A chief achievement of the new tripartite peace pact was that the powerful Christian-dominated National Democratic Front of Bodoland had come forward to sign the pact with the state and the federal government.However, the Feb. 7 program in Kokrajhar town, the hub of Bodo tribal people, echoed Hindu vigilantism with pro-Modi sloganeering. Christian Bodo youths were enthusiastic about the peace deal, hoping to get jobs and live in peace in the violence-hit four districts that they regard as their homeland. But skepticism remains.Undoubtedly, Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has focused on winning over new communities and expanding its geographical base. The base building, the BJP knows, cannot move ahead without co-opting tribal people in the tribal-dominated seven northeastern states.Nevertheless, that is not what the party would say publicly. The BJP presents the new peace pact as a new "model of development" that can be replicated for peace in the region, where several tribal groups clamour for self-determination.Hundreds of Bodo Christians joined the massive rally that Modi addressed. Some Christians billed it a thanks-giving meet. But there were some worrying factors for religious minorities, including Christians.“We are not worried that the BJP is set to gain political legitimacy and a foothold in this region. This is expected in politics. However, the worry is how the BJP woos and attract Christians,” said a Christian leader requesting anonymity.He said the use of the development model has become a pattern to promote soft Hindutva and to create hurdles for Christian missionaries and other religious groups like Muslims. No one can criticize the move toward development and peace.The region has witnessed sporadic violence since Indian independence in 1947 as several ethnic groups took up arms demanding separate homelands.
The development narrative
The new Bodo peace pact acknowledges and virtually creates a Bodo homeland but without separating it from Assam. This model may be tried among other tribal groups seeking greater autonomy in the region, with a promise for development and peace.
Modi’s use of "development" as a syntax for political advancement has become more noticeable now. It helps to accuse the grand old Congress party of inaction, keeping it away from the political mainstream. The BJP widening its reach will also help checkmate the spread of Christianity.
Unlike Western democracies, Indian politics has always been guided by the official recognition of voters’ identity based on religion, caste and even languages. Emotion is the key to Indian politics more than law or reason. Here comes the significance of the BJP pushing its pro-Hindu agenda with emotive issues.
The party under Modi has successfully made a synthesis of emotions with economic and social issues. While retaining its hold on the hardcore Hindu support base, the party has made deeper penetration into geographical areas and also won over new communities.
In the land of Bodo people, the BJP is making inroads, enlisting even Christian with its peace-lover card. But Christian leaders and missionaries say the threat of the BJP creating hurdles for Christian faith is real.
Several Bodo Christians, particularly Baptists, point to the "hesitation" of the federal government in granting visas to visiting Christian missionaries and issuing licenses to Christian groups for receiving foreign funding.
Nirendra Dev is a New Delhi-based journalist. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
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