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'Church's influence on north east politics is on the decline'

Last updated on: April 12, 2018 10:44 IST

'The control of the Church over Christian people regarding politics has become weak...'
People have started to think independently and it is not for sure that they will obey whatever the Church asks them to do.'

Sunil Deodhar addressing an election rally in Karbook, South Tripura
IMAGE: BJP leader Sunil Deodhar addresses an election rally in Karbook, South Tripura. Photograph: Kind courtesy: Sunil Deodhar/Twitter

Sunil Vishwanath Deodhar was appointed the Bharatiya Janata Party's prabhari (in-charge) for Tripura in November 2014 by party president Amit A Shah.

In the February 2013 assembly election in the north eastern state, the BJP fielded 50 candidates for the 60 seat assembly, but won none.

In fact, 48 BJP candidates lost their security deposit.

In the February 2018 assembly election, the BJP won 35 seats, ousting the Communist Party of India-Marxist which had ruled Tripura for 25 years.

"This is a very unique victory because this is the first time in the history of our country that the leftists and the rightists fought direct elections at the state level and the rightists defeated the leftists," says Deodhar.

A former Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh pracharak, Deodhar first arrived in India's north east in 1991 to spread the RSS' wings in the region. He assimilated with the local population, learning their languages and adopting their culture and food habits.

In the 28 years of his association with the north east Deodhar learned Khasi and Jaintia languages from Meghalaya, Bengali and Sylheti Bengali (a different dialect of Bengali spoken by those who migrated from Sylhet district in present day Bangladesh to India's Meghalaya) and Kokborok, a tribal dialect spoken by the indigenous people of Tripura.

Deodhar even changed his food habits and became a non-vegetarian -- he told Rediff.com that from this Hindu New Year he has once again turned vegetarian.

In this interview to Rediff.com's Prasanna D Zore at a suburban five star hotel in Mumbai, Deodhar speaks at length about the reasons behind the BJP's success in the north east, the influence of the Church in elections there, why the BJP will sweep the 2019 general elections in the north east, and his personal transformation during his stint in the north east.

The first of a multi-part interview:

 

What are the reasons for your triumph in Tripura?

It was a unique and historical victory for the BJP to move from 0 to 44 seats in Tripura.

Everybody thought that the BJP will not win more than 5 to 10 seats there. But during the last days (of the election campaign) even the CPM people would say they (the BJP) may win not more than 25 seats.

On the 26th I heard that (then) chief minister Manik Sarkar had called government officers and told them that we are coming back and be prepared with all the files.

On the 28th when the exit polls results came out he called them back again and asked them why he wasn't informed about the mood on the ground.

This is a historic win and it is because of this victory that the morale of BJP activists all over the country has been boosted.

This is a very unique victory. This is the first time in the history of our country that the leftists and the rightists fought direct elections at the state level and the rightists defeated the leftists.

When there is a government in power consistently for 25 years and the so-called 'honest' and 'poor' chief minister -- an illusion created by the media of a great personality, which is what the people believed -- then it is very difficult to defeat this person and his party in the state.

And, specifically, when the BJP was fighting with nothing!

Five years back, 48 out of our 49 candidates (the BJP candidates in the Tripura assembly election) lost their deposits. Keeping this in mind, definitely this is a great victory.

What went wrong for the party in Meghalaya?

About our showing in Meghalaya and Nagaland one must know that the situation in every north eastern state is different.

In fact, in every district there is a different situation, different demography, different languages, different type of people, and that is why you cannot compare one state with another.

Compared to Tripura, our presence in Nagaland and Meghalaya was less. But even then we could have good alliances in Nagaland (with the Nationalist Democratic People's Party led by former chief minister Neiphiu Rio after breaking its 15-year-old alliance with the Naga People's Front), which we have won, and that is also a great achievement for the BJP.

In Meghalaya, we fought election separately (instead of allying with the National People's Party led by Conrad Sangma) but ultimately the mandate that this present government got is totally anti-Congress because all of them fought this election (in Meghalaya) against the Congress because it was the ruling party.

Be it the BJP, the NPP or the UDP (United Democratic Party), they fought against Congress candidates.

That is why we can consider this mandate in Meghalaya as an anti-Congress vote (the BJP with just 2 MLAs has formed the Meghalaya government with the NPP with 19 legislators leading the government and the UDP with 6 seats and People's Democratic Party with 4 seats; the Congress with 21 MLAs is the Opposition in Meghalaya).

We are not satisfied with our victory (in Meghalaya); we thought we will win 8 to 10 seats. The BJP will definitely introspect why this happened and we will correct our future course in Meghalaya.

How entrenched is the Church in India's north east and how did you counter the impression that the BJP is a Hindutva party?

I have worked in Meghalaya for eight long years as an RSS pracharak. I have seen two assembly elections and it is definite that the Church plays a vital role in politics here.

Actually, it should not happen because we say that religion should be kept separate from politics, but they (the Church) don't behave like that.

Even the candidates are introduced in churches.

Forget about BJP and Hindutva, but if a party is fielding a Catholic candidate and another party is fielding a Presbyterian candidate, then all followers in Presbyterian churches will be asked to vote for the Presbyterian candidate... it has happened in the past.

Now what I have seen is the control of the Church over Christian people regarding politics has become weak and a sizeable loss (in the influence of the Church over their followers) is observed because people have started to think independently and it is not for sure that they will obey whatever the Church asks them to do.

The agenda of the NDA government led by Prime Minister Narendra D Modi is sabka saath, sabka vikas. You cannot find anything which is (dictated by) Hindutva in the government.

If you really understand Hindutva it is not a single way of worship, it is a way of life, it is Hindu-ness, which is the ruling of the Supreme Court.

Sabka saath, sabka vikas has appealed to the people of this country.

Even Muslims are happy with Modiji's sabka saath, sabka vikas agenda.

Christians are also happy and if you see the Tripura results, even the Christian pockets have voted for the BJP.

All our candidates in Nagaland were Christians. In Meghalaya too, one of our Christian candidates is a minister now.

Did Muslims too vote for you in Tripura?

Very handful... very handful.

I have seen the booth-wise results, but very handful Muslims voted for the BJP.

WATCH: Sunil Deodhar on the BJP's Tripura victory.
Video: Afsar Dayatar/Rediff.com

Prasanna D Zore / Rediff.com