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Op-Ed

Dr.Imkongliba Ao, a freedom fighter of a different kind

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By EMN Updated: Nov 30, 2013 10:15 pm
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Tali Longkumer

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he celebration of the 50th year of the creation of the State of Nagaland nostalgically reminds me of the unforgettable memories of those adolescent days when I dreamt, laughed and cried under the cuddle of my parents. I vividly remember that eventful night when death almost snatched away our lives.It was then a normal night. The arrival of summer had just broken the hot and dry season under which my home town Mokokchung had slogged for quite sometime. The town looked refreshed and resilient after the long winter spell. As for me and my sister Amenla, it was a normal night for study and in the next room, my father along with some of his close associates, N.I. Jamir and Pangerkumba were locked in a serious conversation on the prevalent political situation of the then Naga Hills. Then all of a sudden, heaven broke loose when bullets were sprayed indiscriminately at our home. Our study room that faced the jungle from where the bullets came received the maximum shrapnel.It was only by providence that our lives were spared except a slight injury sustained by my sister on her left arm. She carries that scar till today.
This incident happened more than fifty years ago, yet, I still carry that memory on my chest with a touch of emotion and often with anger. Those were the defining days, perhaps one of the bleakest chapters in the annals of Naga history when our society was churning through a conflict of fear, suspicion, bloodshed and an uncertain future as both the Indian Army and Police and also the Undergrounds had committed their own share of excesses in the name of justice and freedom. Such tale of events where the common people received the maximum beating were either interpreted or misinterpreted according to one`s taste and understanding even till today. Amidst such an abnormal situation,where hope for stability was running out of people`s minds and only despair, frustrations and hopelessness were the only available topics that were either discussed or argued upon; the first historic Naga People`s Convention was held at Kohima from the 22nd till the 26th of August 1957. It was a convention of a different kind attended on record by 1,760 delegates drawn from all the Naga tribes of the then Naga Hills and more than 2000 other participants from various professions including bureaucrats, educationists, social workers from Naga Hills and outside. In this Coventionmy father, Dr.ImkonglibaAo was elected as the President of the Naga People’s Convention. It was an assembly of the Nagas not necessarily convened to specifically decide on the issue of Independence, but rather it was an assemblage of people to deliberate on the then political turmoil and to consciously explore ways and means to restore peace and stability in a strife torn society. Thus, for this cause, the heaviest responsibilities in drawing up a road map towards restoration of stability was placed under the leadership of my father during one of the most crucial and uncertain periods when none were prepared to shoulder such awesome but thankless responsibilities that were fraught with dire risks to the safety of his life and family as life then, was only a bullet away.
My father was basically a family man, who loved his family so dearly. It was nevertheless his innate passion of his attachment to his family that moved him so profoundly when he saw the cry and anguish of his people. Thus, consequently from the home comfort, he found himself roped into the centre stage of the Naga political arena. Under his leadership, the Naga Delegation negotiated with the Government of India following which the historic 16 Point Agreement was signed. The 16 point demands submitted by the Naga Delegation to the Government of India were fully deliberated by the Naga People’s Convention before it was presented. The Agreement that contained the main provision for the creation of the State of Nagaland as the 16th State of the Indian Union and this agreement that has been so much debated, criticized or appreciated, loved or hated was perhaps the only logical and practical agreement made between two identical parties at that moment of time in containing a precarious situation that was going out of hand.This agreement that also contains provision in protecting the State’s future interest, continues to remain the one workable agreement that has survived the test of time.
My father was a person who fought for the freedom of his people but freedom of a different kind. He never owned an air-conditioned luxury car nor stayed in an air-conditioned room. He had no bodyguards following him nor had fat bank accounts. I still recall an occasion when my father could not pay for my further studies. After spending few days of anxieties, my father could barrow a sum of Rs. 2000 from the then Deputy Commissioner,Mokokchung in meeting my needs. He often walked in jungles to meet the undergrounds and also drove a second hand jeep through dusty and bumpy roads in moving to various destinations. Even for sending messages to Kohima, I often saw him running to the Assam Rifles Camp at Mokokchung where the generator was found most of the time out of order. He had only the courage and his faith in God in pursuing his vision. He thus waged a war for the freedom of his people, but freedom of a different kind – a freedom from fear and uncertainties, a freedom from conflicts and a freedom from bloodshed.
His tragic death which was mourned by the entire nation was poignantly expressed in the late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s condolence message in Parliament that reads, “Dr.Ao was a patriot with a great vision who truly served his people and endeavoured courageously to restore peace in Nagaland. He stood by his principles despite threatand constant danger to his life. He died a martyr’s death in the service of his people and his country.”

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By EMN Updated: Nov 30, 2013 10:15:49 pm