An understanding friend of the Nagas

Atal Bihari Vajpayee  

Six Prime Ministers have visited Nagaland. But none of them, including Narendra Modi, has found as much space in the heart of the Nagas as Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

It was not just because Vajpayee was the first Prime Minister to recognise the “unique history of the Nagas” and provide a development package. His choice of words at a public reception in the State capital Kohima on October 28, 2003, endeared him to the people who — because of years of separatism — had never thought highly of “Indian” leaders.

His opening line in Nagamese, the State’s lingua franca , translated into: “My dear brothers and sisters, I am very happy to be in your midst on the soil of Nagaland.”

“For too long, this fair land has been scarred and seared by violence ... My government has been doing everything possible to stop this bloodshed, so that we can together inaugurate a new era of peace, development and prosperity in Nagaland,” he said.

Abu Metha, a leader of the party Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio belongs to, was the editor of a local daily when Mr. Vajpayee visited the State that year. He recalled how he took a split-second decision to travel by road to Kohima from Dimapur when the helicopter trip was called off because of bad weather. “This decision by the Prime Minister to come to Kohima by road and travel for close to two hours has, indeed, won the hearts of the Naga people in more ways than one.

While on the bumpy road, Mr. Vajpayee passed instructions for the road to be converted into four-lane.

The Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland also recalled the role Mr. Vajayee played in taking the Naga peace process forward. “During his leadership, the unique history and situation of the Nagas was officially recognised by the Government of India on July 11, 2002,” it said on Thursday.