There is completely no dispute whatsoever that the Naga Club and it members were the first collective voice as a group to the then British rulers. A very simple but straightforward memorandum to the Simon Commission that was signed on January 10, 1929 marked a new dawn in the history of the Nagas. What seemed like a small step of 20 people signing a memorandum was actually a big statement that exhibited a new consciousness that the few Naga leaders of that time had acquired. It also exhibited the intentionof Nagas to come together as a single community. Then on, that legacy was passed on to Naga posterity and the many organisations that followed the vision. At present, this legacy of coming together, or coalescence of the Nagas, as a single voice marks the day of formation of the Naga Club, an important event worthy of commemoration.
Unfortunately, the positive part of that beautiful story ends there. The proposed celebration of the 100th anniversary of the formation of Naga Club has currently run into an acrimonious dispute between the formidable Naga Students’ Federation (NSF) and the recently revived Naga Club. It all started with two programmes, one announced by each organisation.
The Naga Club has chosen ‘celebrating coalescence,’ as their theme and the NSF has chosen ‘celebrating legacy.’ The issue has become an object of ridicule for the public and the many non-Naga onlookers because of the bitter public spat between the two organisations in the regional newspapers of the state; it does not need repetition. There is clearly a difference of opinion about the history of the formation of the Naga Club. There is also conflict on the question of inclusion of other tribes not part of present Nagaland, although it was refuted publicly by the Naga Club. Though the dates of the celebration differ, the two dates are consecutive to each other. The core issue seems to be – who should be the rightful political heir hereafter?
The Naga Club was formed by those Nagas who were part of the Labour Corps in Europe during WWI, after their return in 1918. Until now, that was the accepted history of the formation of the Naga Club. Many authors, Naga nationalists and Naga organisations have lent credence to this version. Even a former chief minister while inaugurating the memorial for the latter in April 2017 attributed the formation of the Naga Club to those Nagas who were in the Labour Corps.
Ontaking a closer look, it would be absurd to accept that all the returnees were part of the Naga Club. The reason: The Naga Club was exclusively for those working under the imperial government—headmen, interpreters, clerks, etc. The Naga Club recently clarified that it was formed in January 1918 before the Labour Corps returned. This is a small part of the history on the formation of the Naga Club which can be and must be easily corrected. It is pertinent that all Naga organisations and various authors change the records accordingly.
On the other hand, the present Naga Club also need to revisit its history if setting the records straight and protecting it, as being proclaimed, is one of its agendas. Thereafter, more questions shall be asked. Was the Naga Club which was formed by a few government servants, a political platform from the beginning? Were the happenings around the world witnessed by those who went to Europe during WWI instrumental in relighting the spirit of nationalism among the Nagas and the Naga Club in the later years? Were the happenings in India a factor for the Naga Club in its representation to the Simon Commission? The Naga Club should be bold enough to set those records straight. Or else, history will be the judge.
However, the bone of contention currently seems to be more of a tussle of ownership for the political legacy of the Naga Club’s memorandum of 1929 to the Simon Commission. It was in 1929, that the Naga Club laid the foundation for the first written document indicating the aspiration of the Nagas. One important aspect that the Naga Club members need to accept is that it is also the political legacy of those Naga leaders who first sowed the seeds, even to the Naga Club members that kept the spirit of the Naga identity intact for the past century. The spirit of Naga identity and the new consciousness for Naga nationalism was already taking baby steps after the Great War. In the Naga Hills district, tribal councils were already emerging among the tribes prior to the appointment of the Simon Commission. Elsewhere in India two important events happened between 1919 and 1927—the year the Simon Commission was appointed that may have influenced the Naga pioneers. The first was the Rowlatt Act, and the subsequent protests leading to the JallianwalaBagh massacre of 1919. Next was the Civil Disobedience Movement that was started in 1921.
The consciousness of the Nagas to be united as a group, and the first step that was taken publicly by a Naga group for Naga identity was in the form of a memorandum to the Simon Commission. This spirit was inherited by other Naga organisations that came up later in the last 100 years, although the Naga Club as a political body ceased to function for long.
The Naga Student’s Federation is also one such product of the seed that was sown earlier. Although formally started in 1947, many attribute its genesis to the various Naga student unions and associations formed outside Naga Hills, some as early as 1939—T AlibaImti in his reminiscences has stated that the Naga Students’ Union Shillong was started that year. Later after WWII the Naga Hills District Tribal Council (NHDTC) was formed in 1945 which was later renamed Naga National Council (NNC) in 1946 at Wokha, and the rest is history. All these organisations took up the political legacy of the Naga Club. The present Naga Club members need to acknowledge that the NSF was the next best thing that happened after the Naga Club to carry the flame forward. The Naga public also need to accept that in spite of its many failures and at times short-sighted decisions typical of young people, the NSF in the garb of a student’s welfare body has contributed a lot more in the political sphere. It was for long a sentinel of Naga youngsters protecting them from negative cultural impact from outside.
On the question of inclusivity, the 20 signatories of the memorandum were only from the then Naga Hills district of Assam without the present eastern districts. The signatories were also not inclusive of all the tribes of the then Naga Hills. But their intentions were clear—it was meant for all the Naga areas. Any move to distort it is courting danger and would be a mockery of the Nagas. Moreover, the day the members of the Naga Club irrespective of numbers stood forward to represent the rest of their people, that same day the Naga Club also became the property of the Nagas as a whole.
For the present Naga Club with its temporary office being shared with an organisation that speaks mostly welfare, based on a very recent term ‘Nagas of Nagaland,’ it has only bred suspicion. The revived Naga Club stated that the present office bearers were formally elected and endorsed by ‘representatives of various Naga tribes’ on June 2, 2017. Which tribes were present during the meeting? The apex tribe organisations are yet to give any declaration on this issue, which has caused more trust deficit again. The NSF has declared that it had decided to reconstruct the present Naga Club building way back in 2015 to prepare for the centenary celebrations with the knowledge of some of the present Naga Club members. What went wrong? The Naga public needs to know. Peace activist NiketuIralu recently reminded a truism, “What we must not forget in the deteriorating crisis is that Naga Club and NSF were the best of allies yesterday!”
However, the biggest question is this: what kind of an organisation would the newly revived Naga Club be hereafter? Contrary to its statement, it is but a fact that the Naga Club as a political platform was defunct for many years, unless it was an underground organisation. It even had to take the help of the NSF to claim its own building in 1983. The Naga Club today is a treasured relic that has more academic and aesthetic importance than simply being a political organisation. The committee or the newly elected office bearers are but curators of this treasure. Its buildings, properties and records need to be properlymaintained and all Nagas need to provide support. However, if the intention is to revive the Naga Club as a political organisation, it will be disastrous.