New Delhi: Christian leaders in tribal-dominated Nagaland state say the Indian prime minister's recent visit to Israel will help their people have easy access to holy places such as Jerusalem, a right they have been demanding for decades.
Thomas Ngullie, a legislator in the Christian-dominated state, lauded Prime Minister Narendra Modi's July 4-6 visit to Israel, saying the improved India-Israel relations bode well for Christians. Modi is the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel.
Former lawmaker Khyamo Lotha echoed Ngullie's comments acknowledging Jerusalem as a place of Christian pilgrimage. The 77-year-old retired politician was the first to stress the need for improved Indo-Israel relations as far back as 1991.
Bilateral ties between India and Israel were first established in 1992 under then prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao. Prior to that, Christians could not go to Israel, even with diplomatic passports.
During his visit, Modi struck a good rapport with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu and both leaders have vowed to take the relationship to new heights, media reports said.
However, many critics, including the parties in India have criticized Modi for departing from India's established foreign policy, which had previously supported Palestine.
Modi's decision for a "strategic partnership" with Israel amounts "to a virtual abandonment of the Palestinian cause," the Communist Party of India-Marxist said in a statement.
Communist leader D. Raja said Modi deliberately did not visit Ramallah and the Palestinian officials. "Throughout the visit, the prime minister did not say a word about India's stand on the issue of a Palestinian state. It is unfortunate," he said.
Leaders of Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) say their pro-Hindu party has consistently pursued its own foreign policy.
"Building up strong Indo-Israel, or even Indo-U.S. ties has been an agenda for the Indian government since the 1990s. But there always was some hesitation," said BJP leader Hukumdev Narayan Yadav.
"This hesitation was broken by the Vajpayee regime," he said referring to the first visit by an Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, in 2003. "Now that hesitation is completely gone" under Modi, he said.
Since the 1992 agreement, several Christians from Nagaland and other northeastern states have visited Israel.
Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram are India's only three Christian-majority states, all in northeastern India.