Sunday Anchor

Wooing the northeast

The Narendra Modi government has been seeking to revive the memory of the Northeastern >tribal icon Rani Gaidinliu. It is being seen largely as an attempt to reach out to the region, where the Bharatiya Janata Party has had little presence till now.

Gaidinliu was a tribal woman operating from parts of Manipur and Nagaland who turned against the British under the influence of Haiphou Jadong, a revolutionary from her tribe. She was sentenced to 14 years of imprisonment. Later, Jawaharlal Nehru reportedly gave her the title of Rani in the late 1930s.

There are reasons why the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has been attracted to the Rani. An ordinary girl from Tamenglong and belonging to the Zeliangrong tribe, Rani is known to have turned against the Christian missionaries after Independence, saying they were trying to swamp out indigenous Zeliangrong traditions. Reports also claim that she tactically aligned with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad for this purpose.

“She looked at the role of the Christian missions as part of the colonial process. She saw colonialism holistically, with British rule as its political aspect and missionary activity as its religious aspect and struggled against both,” said Rabi Ranjan Sen, former national vice-president of RSS student affiliate Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, and a doctorate in history from Jawaharlal Nehru University. RSS functionary Sunil Mohanty, who has worked in the Northeast, agrees.

This makes the Rani particularly useful to the Sangh Parivar, which holds that Indian tribes are primarily Hindus who are being lured by Christians. One Sangh affiliate, the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram based in Jashpur, Chhattisgarh, is dedicated to working among tribes, educating and Hinduising them. These Sangh bodies have been locked in a contest with Christian missionaries who have also worked among tribals and converted many of them. Experts and many educated tribals, however, say that tribal cultures and religious practices are basically independent of both Christianity and Hinduism.

Tiplut Nongbri, professor of Sociology at JNU, said: “They (the Sangh Parivar) appropriate groups and communities as part of Hinduism. The tribes in the Northeast are heterogeneous, and many are not at all part of the umbrella of Hinduism.”

The bid to celebrate the Rani may, however, have already run into rough weather. There are conflicts within the Northeast and contests over diverse religious traditions there. The Angami People’s Organisation has objected to the Modi government’s plan to establish the Rani museum-cum-library at Kohima. The Nagaland Tribes Council held a meeting of influential organisations and resented the government’s plan to eulogise the Rani. The meeting claimed that she had fought the Naga National Council as well as the Indian government. Besides, it was said that she practised the Heraka religion of the Zeliangrong, which was not the Naga religion before they converted to Christianity. Participants asked why personalities like A.Z. Phizo, Hokeshe Sema and many others should not be given due recognition as well, “since people in Nagaland owe them for what they are today”.

There are also undercurrents of a political contest in the making. Manipur Chief Minister from the Congress, Okram Ibobi Singh, has said that the Rani was being politicised, and Manipur would open a library dedicated to her.

The Rani’s tribe is found in Manipur, Nagaland and Assam, all States where the BJP can hope to gain some votes by honouring their heroine.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2022 6:35:47 PM |

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