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David vs Goliath: Naga People's Front takes on BJP & RSS with a beef feast

Catch Team | Updated on: 22 July 2017, 13:29 IST
(Arya Sharma/Catch News)


It is a modern day David versus Goliath political battle in Nagaland. There cannot be a louder challenge sent out to the BJP, that too from an ally of 14 years, than with a beef feast.

The Naga People’s Front (NPF) led by dislodged former Chief Minister Shürhozelie Liezietsu, 80, has declared war on Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party with what hurts it the most – beef.

According to NPF, that broke away from the BJP this week, after Shürhozelie was ousted, governor P.B Acharya is the one who played the game. In a cheeky open letter to Acharya, the NPF’s Youth Wing invited him to a beef feast on Friday evening.

“To celebrate your latest political coup, and to mark the severance of ties with your political party the BJP, we are organising a Beef Feast (Your Excellency knows Nagas are voracious meat eaters) this evening and would like to take this opportunity to invite you to cancel some of your not-so-official engagements in political scheming and to come and join us for dinner at the Office Headquarters of the NPF Central Office, Kohima,” president of NPF Youth Wing, Vihoshe Swu wrote.

“Looking forward to your benign presence in our midst, Your Excellency,” he concluded sarcastically.

In Nagaland, Christians make up about 88% of the population (2011 Census), where Naga nationalism is usually coupled with the slogan 'Nagaland for Christ'.

The BJP’s Hindutva agenda was always under the scanner but seldom did it come under direct fire and NPF and the BJP had been allies since 2003. Atal Behari Vajpayee is fondly remembered to this day.

Even the beef ban drew only casual laughs from Nagas who merrily continued with their staple. But politics changed the tenor of the debate.


Resisting the ‘trishul’

On 19 July, the NPF first spewed venom.

“The haste with which he (Acharya) has acted (by) favouring the RSS-friendly dispensation should be a wake-up call to the Naga people that there are elements fiercely and furiously doing the utmost to pierce the Trishul into the heart-land of Christ,” the NPF said in a statement on Wednesday.

The realisation may have come 14 years too late, but it seems the old lion Shürhozelie is too hurt to resist a fight anymore. And the issue of Hindutva came up only after the courts refused to stay a floor test.

The latest letter addressed to Acharya, and handed out as a press release, minced no words –

“We are now in a jubilant mood because not only has the NPF severed ties with the BJP for good, you yourself have shown how low you can stoop to achieve your political and religious agenda in the last few days. You now stand exposed not unlike the proverbial emperor who went around the streets naked,” the letter said.

Acharya had also come under fire from the then Tarun Gogoi led Assam government last year. Gogoi had accused the governor of unabashedly campaigning for the BJP ahead of the state polls.

Shürhozelie is furious as he was dismissed this week by Acharya after he remained absent for a floor test in the Assembly, called by his party legislator TR Zeliang.

Zeliang was appointed as chief minister by Acharya on 19 July and told to prove majority on Friday.

On Thursday, Shürhozelie as NPF president appointed a chief whip.

Zeliang though expelled, declared himself as the NPF legislature party chief whip which was recognised by the Speaker. Zeliang won the motion on Friday 47-11.


David’s challenge to Goliath

One can easily misconstrue it as a battle between an ousted chief minister Shürhozelie and Zeliang or Acharya. In reality, it is Shürhozelie through and through, a regional party leader and a legislator since the 1960s, challenging not just Prime Minister Narendra Modi but the entire BJP-RSS complex.

Shürhozelie is steeped in Naga sub-nationalism, if not Naga nationalism, and knows the pulse of the people.

Hindutva versus Naga Christianity may have just turned into an election plank for the polls scheduled for early 2018. Unless of course, a political settlement with the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) fructifies and elections are called off for an “alternative arrangement”.

A non-existent Congress in the state has been shouting from the rooftops about BJP-RSS combine’s communal agenda. But no one takes the party seriously. That is not true for the NPF, however eroded it may have become.

When the NPF raises the issue of BJP’s communal agenda, it will willy-nilly overlap with the dormant Naga nationalism that keeps resurfacing from time to time. Modi is being attacked with a handy tool – Acharya.

“It was very clear that the Governor, who was a decorated RSS pracharak, was sent to the land of Christians with a single agenda but he could not effectively fulfil his mission so long as the BJP was riding piggy-back on the NPF,” said the NPF.

Shürhozelie, however, had attempted to justify the 14-year coalition with the BJP. The NPF said that by aligning with the BJP all these years and playing host to the saffron party, the NPF was successful in containing the agenda of the BJP in Nagaland. 

The regional party claimed to have kept the BJP alive but only barely like “a florist making bonsai out of a tree”.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 22 July 2017, 13:29 IST