Campaign promises around the world are legendary, from “a roast in every pot,” to “I’ll cut your taxes,” to “vote for me, and I’ll set you free.”
But a pledge made by the rival Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress parties running in local elections in the Christian- majority state of Nagaland in India is unique: “Vote for us and get either a free or a heavily subsidized pilgrimage to Jerusalem.”
According to the Indian daily The Hindu, the local branch of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP is offering free trips to Israel.
In the run-up to the February 27 election to the Nagaland Legislative Assembly, the BJP spokesman in Nagaland, James Vizo, told The Hindu, “We plan to send groups of senior Christian citizens to Jerusalem if our party comes to power.”
According to Vizo, “The pilgrimage for our senior citizens could be free, but that needs to be worked out later.”
The local affiliate of the Congress Party, not to be outdone, is also offering a trip, but – in an apparent effort to show fiscal responsibility – their trip will not be completely free, albeit highly subsidized. Its party platform reads: “By an act of the state government, a board will be established to facilitate minorities to visit the Holy Land at a subsidized cost.”
Nagaland is one of India’s smallest states, with just under two million people, of whom 88% are Christian.
According to Tourism Ministry figures, some 58,000 Indian tourists came to Israel in 2017, a 47% increase from 2015.
This would not be the first time that countries have bankrolled pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Nigeria, which for many years financed a trip to Mecca for Muslims, did the same for Christians to Jerusalem, leading to some 42,000 Nigerians visiting the country in 2011. Those subsidies have been cut considerably in recent years with their change of government, and now a 12-day pilgrimage – still subsidized – costs around $2,000.
Just 9,000 Nigerians visited the country in 2017, a 78% decrease from 2011.