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The people with a rare gift of wisdom: The unsung heroes of Nagaland

This article is a tribute to the unsung heroes of the present-day Nagaland who risked their lives for the future of fellow Naga people.

by Dr Raktim Patar

On 26th February 2020, I had a god-sent opportunity to witness an event perhaps one of the rarest of the rare in the history of Nagaland. That day, the Governor of Nagaland R.N. Ravi dedicated the Durbar Hall of the Raj Bhavan in Kohima in presence of Chief Minister Mr Neiphiu Rio and host of other dignitaries to Dr Imkongliba Ao, in honour and recognition of his contribution towards building of peaceful and developed Nagaland. Besides, the Governor also handed over letters of commendation to Padmabhushan Dr S.C. Jamir, the former Governor of Maharashtra, Goa, Orissa and the former Chief Minister of Nagaland and other 20 visionary Naga leaders belonging to Major tribes of Nagaland in recognition of their profound courage and love for peace and prosperity of fellow Naga people and patriotism who signed the 16 point agreement that paved the way for the creation of the state of Nagaland. During the function, I heard the emotional voices of some of the family members of the leaders which made me realised that the real heroes of Nagaland were never given their due recognition, rather they were blamed as traitors of Naga people by those who are enjoying the sweet fruits of the sacrifices made by them.

Nagaland came into existence as the 16th state of Indian union on 1st December 1963. It had experienced insurgency and bloodshed for quite a long time before attending statehood. The painstaking and dangerous journey towards attaining a separate identity within the constitution of India with a unique name and special provision of 371(A) was a history of sacrifices and courage of some patriotic Naga leaders that has been deliberately omitted in the history of modern Nagaland. In the contemporary history of Northeast of India in general and Nagaland, in particular, one can find the names of the militant leaders like British citizen Phizo and others and their unjustified violence for a so-called separate Nagalim or Greater Nagaland but the persons who had braved the dangers of losing their lives for the cause of the Naga people has never been given due recognition. On the contrary, they have treated with utmost disrespect and sometimes blamed as agents of India for their timely and futuristic decision to settle the Naga issue through debate and discussion and a settlement within the ambit of the Indian constitution.

Since the Indian independence in 1947, there was a demand for a separate Nagaland for which a group of Naga youth started China-backed armed conflict with the Indian government. As a result, thousands of people were killed, the villages were dislocated/destroyed, educational institutions were closed down, the economy plunged into the depth of sea, starvation and famine become a common phenomenon in the life of the Naga. Poverty and underdevelopment almost pushed the Naga people into primitive age. At this juncture, a group of courageous people under the leadership of Dr Imkongliba Ao decided to hold the first Naga Peoples’ Convention to discuss the future of the Naga people. Amid the sea of violence and bloodshed they toured the length and breadths of Naga inhabited area and convinced all the 16 major Naga tribes to send their representative for the convention that was held at Kohima from 22nd to 26th August in 1957. In this convention, more than 1735 representatives of all the major tribes of the Nagas, particularly Naga hill and Tuensang area of erstwhile North-East Frontier Agency along with 2000 observers from other Naga areas such as Manipur, Burma, actively deliberated the issue for a respectable and peaceful political solution of the Naga problem.

Due to the efforts of Dr Imkongliba Ao and leaders like him, the convention resolved to solve the Naga problem through satisfactory political settlement within the union of India and appealed the Naga people to give up the cult of violence for the greater peace and prosperity. It marked the beginning of a new era in the history of Nagaland. With the prompt response from the Indian government, the Naga leaders decided to go ahead with the resolution adopted by the Naga Peoples’ Convention and discussed with the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in September 1957. On the eve of their journey to New Delhi, Dr Ao, a visionary and a profound lover of peace, stated that they believed neither in violence nor in the creation of an independent Naga state and what they wanted was a modification into the existing administrative set up so that they could share the fruits of India’s independence and develop following their own economic, social and religious beliefs.

After a fruitful discussion, the government of India decided to amend the sixth schedule of the Indian constitution and created an administrative unit separate from Assam by the name Naga Hills Tuensang Area on 1st December 1957. It was the first milestone in the way of the creation of the autonomous state of Nagaland within the framework of the Indian Union. As a result, 3000 Naga underground rebels came out voluntarily including Phizo’s son and daughter saying that they were unable to bear the hardships of life in the jungles. While the hostile forces denounced the settlement, the peace-loving Naga held it as the dawn of the new era in Nagaland. However, hostilities continued in Nagaland. The rebels continued their plunder, attack and killing of the innocent Nagas.

Nevertheless, the peace-loving Naga organised a second Naga Peoples’ Convention in May 1958, as encouraged by the success of the first Naga Peoples’ Convention held in August 1957. Despite the protest and threat of the hostile Nagas, the second convention was held at Ungma village in Mokokchung district from 21st to 23rd May 1958. It was attended by more than 2,705 delegates representing various Naga tribes. It reaffirmed the decision taken in the first Naga Peoples Convention and expressed their satisfaction over the improved law and order situation in the Naga Hill. The convention strongly condemned all sorts of violence, dacoity, theft, intimidation false impersonation and propaganda, the imposition of fines and closing down of schools in certain areas.

Further, the convention formed a liaison committee under the leadership of Dr Imkongliba Ao and 7 other members to explore the possibilities for an agreed solution to the Naga problems and to convince and bring the underground Naga into the peace process. It was a horrendous task to contact and convince the politically motivated Naga underground leaders. Nevertheless, they risked their lives and made contact with them in the deep jungles but failed to convince them to fall in line with the Naga Peoples’ Convention. Subsequently, a drafting committee was formed which formulated a 16-point proposal. The sixteen-point proposal envisaged the formation of a new state to be known as Nagaland within the Indian Union comprising the territories hitherto known as the Naga Hills Tuensang Area (NHTA).

The sixteen-point proposal was placed before the third Naga Peoples’ Convention which met at Mokokchung from 22nd to 26th October in 1959. It approved the proposal to be placed before the government of India and requested the underground Nagas to come overground and to give up the path of violence and to participate in the running of the new government of Nagaland. Dr Imkongliba Ao, who was instrumental in the drafting of the 16 point proposal, in his letter dated 26th July 1960 to the Prime Minister of India clearly stated, “It is only in a separate homeland of our own, we will fully play our part in the development of the country as a whole and running of our popular government according to our culture and traditions. Finally, the sixteen-point agreement was concluded between the 21 representatives under the chairmanship of Dr Imkongliba Ao and the government of India on 30 July 1960. They were leaders and nation builders of post-colonial India!

Read- The 21 leaders of Naga People’s Convention: Heroes of Nagaland that the nation forgot

Following the agreement, an Interim Body comprising of 42 members and Dr Imkongliba Ao as its Chairman was inaugurated in presence of thousands of peace-loving Naga people by Gen. Shri Nagesh, the governor of Assam, on 18th February 1961 at Kohima. The members of the interim body expressed their allegiance to the constitution of India and committed themselves to work for the upliftment and general welfare of the people. Dr Ao appealed to the hostile Nagas to abandon the path of violence and not to sabotage the final decision of the Naga people who wanted to have no more bloodshed, suffering and miseries. However, the Rebels turned a deaf ear to the appeal and continued their hostile activities against the government and the Naga people. Out of frustration, they assassinated Dr Imkongliba Ao at Mukokchung on 22 August 1961, while he was returning at night from his dispensary after serving the sick and needy.

The person who wanted to create a peaceful and developed Nagaland to compete with the rest of the world came to an end. In contemporary history, Dr Ao and his colleagues’ contributions were forgotten. After 58 years of silence in the hills of Nagaland, Dr Imkongliba Ao and his visionary friends are now being honoured. It is indeed a humble but incomparable gesture by the Governor of Nagaland. Dr Ao and his men never thought of their aggrandisement or self-benefit, what they did were out of their devotion and love for the people of Nagaland. They deserve more than what the people of Nagaland should give to them. Unfortunately, Naga rebels denigrated them and the rest of the country forgot them!

Contributions of Leaders of Naga People’s Convention is not only towards building a peaceful and prosperous Nagaland but also sowing the seeds of a peaceful North East of India and stabilising our nation’s eastern frontier!

(Author is Dr Raktim Patar, academician, historian, thinker and writer. He is a research scholar at North East Centre, New Delhi)

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