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Nagaland CM Zeliang denies helping RSS push Hinduism in northeastern state

Some sections allege that the RSS is patronising Hinduism-like indigenous faiths such as Heraka that has some 2,000 followers in Nagaland where Christians constitute 88% of the population.

india Updated: Jul 27, 2017 20:11 IST
Rahul Karmakar
Rahul Karmakar
Hindustan Times, Guwahati
TR Zeliang,Nagaland,RSS
Nagaland chief minister TR Zeliang has denied helping RSS push Hinduism in the Christian-majority state.

Nagaland chief minister TR Zeliang has denied helping the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) push Hinduism in Christian-majority Nagaland through Heraka, an indigenous faith developed by some Naga tribes in the 1920s to counter conversion to Christianity.

Some sections allege that the RSS is patronising Hinduism-like indigenous faiths such as Heraka that has some 2,000 followers in Nagaland where Christians constitute 88% of the population. Assam and Manipur have more Naga adherents of this faith.

The 65-year-old Zeliang was baptised in 1973, three years before he joined active politics. But rivals within his Naga People’s Front (NPF) have accused him of replacing Shurhozelie Liezietsu with a Hindutva agenda in collusion with governor PB Acharya.

The NPF group headed by Shurhozelie even issued a statement saying Acharya helped Zeliang’s “RSS-friendly dispensation” drive the “trishul” into the heartland of Christ.

“My village was 100% Heraka but they began converting to Christianity since the 1960s. We are all devout Christians today. I fail to understand why he (Shurhozelie) branded me as Heraka,” Zeliang told HT at his residence in state capital Kohima.

“According to him (Shurhozelie), the governor has a soft corner for me because I am Heraka, and not because I had absolute majority. I did have an association with Rani Gaidinliu since my college days, but only because she was a freedom fighter. Associating with a freedom fighter recognised by the government is not a sin,” the chief minister said.

The BJP has allegedly been appropriating Gaidinliu, who led a Naga army against the British in the 1930s and propagated Heraka, as an icon of Hindutva.

Zeliang also defended the NPF’s alliance with the BJP. “Our association is older than the pre-poll alliance of 2003. It is a friendship for peace and development, not interfering in religious beliefs. Had that been the case, none of our BJP legislators would have remained Christians,” he said.

The chief minister also ruled out the merger of his faction of NPF – most of who are expelled or suspended by the Shurhozelie faction – with the BJP or with the Democratic Progressive Party formed some time ago by some NPF dissidents.

“NPF is our roots and we will make the party stronger in the assembly election next year,” he said.

Before the fortnight-long power struggle that saw him lose the CM’s chair, Shurhozelie, too, said the BJP is a natural ally of the NPF but did not explain why his NPF faction severed ties with the saffron party.

“We will go on our own now, but I will continue to support (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi and treat the BJP well,” he said on the final day of his campaign for the bye-election to the Northern Angami-1 assembly seat on July 29.

The bypoll became necessary after Shurhozelie’s son Khriehu Liezietsu quit to enable his father to contest and win for continuing as the chief minister. But Shurhozelie’s ouster is said to have made the bypoll a mere formality.

“I had retired from politics in 2012, but the party asked me to continue as president and the post of chief minister was thrust upon me in February (after a violent agitation against women quota in civic polls made Zeliang resign). I am now compelled to contest the election,” said the 81-year-old Shurhozelie, a scholar of Naga literature.

His lone rival is Kekhrie Yhome, a rights activist and academician who is a guest lecturer at Nagaland University.

There is hardly any buzz around the by-poll, but hardliners in NPF believe this could be the trial for the assembly election expected to be Christianity versus Hindutva contest.

First Published: Jul 27, 2017 20:11 IST