The politics of religious polarization in Nagaland

Elections are always laden with political rhetorics, whether substantiated or otherwise. Nagaland is no exception to this.


However, the discourses leading to the impending Lok Sabha bye-election on May 28 and the recently concluded State’s Assembly election has clearly demonstrated a new trend – the rooting of religious polarization in Naga politics.


Questions such as; Why religious identity is prone to politicization in India? How political parties exploit religious sentiments and create divisions for political gains? have always hovered silently.


Numerous attempts have been made to provide a convincing answer to these questions but it continues to stay elusive in nature.


The tension over religion, however, seems to be proven formula to generate populist sentiments with considerable success. Such trends have become more perceptible in recent years.


The ruling party at the centre is often accused of employing such tactics while the main opposition has had been charged with ‘appeasement’ politics mainly for electoral gains.


In such a scenario, democratic politics degenerated, according to Anuja Bose, from “an instrument for societal transformation to a mechanical means of retaining power.”


In Nagaland, over the years, the protracted Naga political issue was always the safe bet for any parties fighting an election. Other dynamics such as village, clan, personality and most importantly, monetary consideration, were the prerogatives rather than substantive issues.


The ineffectiveness of any ruling party in dealing with issues pertaining to welfare of the people always had to play second fiddle.


Joining the bandwagon is the religious polarization or simply understood as the process of dividing the public opinion on the basis of religion, which often goes to the extremes.


The initial salvos were fired during the recently election to 13th Nagaland Legislative Assembly. While an alliance partner in the ruling PDA government was busy defending its secular credentials, the other side was trying to exploit the former’s apparent discomfiture to the hilt.


Inadvertently or otherwise, the church was also found itself in the ensuing contestation generated by parties playing politics.


While the impact was negligible, however, the undercurrent cannot be simply dismissed. It does not help that a small gain in state like Nagaland is trumpeted as the attestation of its ideology by certain elements.


With barely two days before campaigning ends for the May 28 Lok Sabha bye-election in Nagaland, thus, complaints were filed alleging violation of the Model Code of Conduct by a party against its rival for “communally inflammatory speeches.”


“Such speeches were a threat to law and order during the by-poll as well as creating enmity among different classes and tribes of people,” the complainant argued.


Secularism and communalism, once restricted as tedious academic exercise, suddenly found itself out in the mainstream, entering the kitchen hearth and on social media.


It does not help that the growth of vigilantism, apparent cultural appropriation as well as the jingoistic nationalism often based on majoritarian politics and religion has become perceptibly audible in the recent years. In such a juncture people are expected to become apprehensive and politics is nothing but taking advantage of such concerns.


Infusing religion into existing narrative is a silver bullet for temporary political gains but it might prove detrimental to progressive growth of a society.


In this contestation of rhetoric, real issues are conveniently buried under the electoral polemics. For example, heard any party talking about the contentious and topical Citizenship (Amendment) Bill issue in the run-up to the election? We rest our case.