Nagaland split over centenary celebrations of club that united warring tribes

It was formed by porters sent to fight in France during the First World War

Published - October 27, 2018 09:33 pm IST - GUWAHATI

The Naga porters and labourers recruited during the First World War and the Naga Club. SPecial Arrangement

The Naga porters and labourers recruited during the First World War and the Naga Club. SPecial Arrangement

Kohima, the only theatre of the Second World War in the Indian subcontinent, is gearing up for the centenary of an ethnic club moulded by events during the First World War in faraway France.

But the Nagaland capital is divided over who has the right to celebrate the special day of the club that unified disparate Naga tribes and laid the foundation of an armed movement for secession from India.

The stand-off is between the influential Naga Students’ Federation (NSF) and members of the 100-year-old Naga Club. The NSF doubts the credibility of the members since the Naga Club of 1918 became dormant in 1982, while the latter say the students’ body should not dictate terms just because it “took over” the club building in 1983.

The club building is not far from the landmark Kohima War Cemetery, an iconic reminder of a fierce battle in 1944 between the British-led Allied forces and the Japanese army alongside Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army.

Separate events

“We are going ahead with the centenary celebration on October 31 without the other party. We do not know if these members are legitimate, as the last office-bearers of the Naga Club were appointed in 1982,” NSF president Kesosul Christopher Ltu told The Hindu on Saturday. He said the NSF, set up in 1947, as caretaker of a piece of Naga history following an agreement with the Naga Club to operate from the club building, was justified in hosting the event.

But members of the Naga Club disagree. “The club remained dormant from 1967 to 1981, but a meeting was held in January 1982 to revive it. The club was dormant again after the expiry of all the office-bearers of the club from 1982-2000 before we revived it in February 2017,” Krurovie Peseyie, the club’s chairman, said.

“The NSF had in April 1983 applied for renting the Naga Club building. A part of the building was allotted to the NSF on rental basis, documents of which are available with the club. But there are no rent receipts,” Mr. Peseyie said.

The Naga Club plans to mark the centenary a day ahead of the NSF.

Naga ideologue Niketu Iralu underlined the irony of two organisations fighting over the celebration of a club that unified warring Naga tribes. “The reason for both Naga Club and NSF is the same — celebration of something that shaped the socio-political course of the Nagas. This is perhaps a reflection of the suspicion deep in the Naga society and rhetoric based on prevailing divisions in our society,” Mr Iralu said.

Unifying force

The British government had during the First World War recruited 2,000 labourers and porters from some 15 Naga tribes and sent them to fight in France between 1914 and 1918. Alienated from other British Indian troops on European soil, the Nagas developed a sense of unity.

Many of them returned, and under the leadership of R.S. Ruichumhao, formed the Naga Club along with some British officials in 1918. The club provided the foundation for the Naga nationalist movement. In 1929, members of the club submitted a memorandum to the Simon Commission, proposing self-rule by the Nagas after the departure of the British from India.

The Naga Club was later overshadowed by the Naga Hills District Tribal Council formed in 1945, which metamorphosed into a political organisation called Naga National Council (NNC). Under the legendary Angami Zapu Phizo, the NNC waged a war of independence against the Indian Union in the 1950s.

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