A. Z. Phizo : As I knew him
- Mr. J. P. Mishra
Dated 14th May 2004, Kanpur
(Remembrances of A.Z. Phizo by his friend J.P. Mishra)
I am privileged and honoured to be invited to the auspicious occasion of the birth centenary celebration of my friend the late Mr. A. Z Phizo, the father of the Naga Nation. Having known him for the last fifteen years of his life, I can understand the enormity of the celebration and I would certainly be with you today if not for my ill health. Nevertheless, I thank the organisers and all of you for honouring me with the invitation. I convey my deepest respects to my friend in whose remembrances we are gathered here today. And I hope and pray that this initiative brings understanding and unity amongst the Nagas.
I wish to give a brief account of the life of Mr. Phizo, as I had known him.
My first encounter with Phizo
I came to know Mr. Phizo through Rev. Michael Scott and my first meeting with him took place at the reverend’s place. In that meeting, Mr. Phizo explained the nature of his struggle with the Indian leadership and gave his ideas as to why this misunderstanding and the struggle arose. Nagas have a distinct cultural and historical background. So did India. These differences in cultural and historical facts and the failure of the two Nations to try and appreciate each other’s background led to the misunderstanding.
When asked to elaborate it further Mr. Phizo tried to explain thus "We Nagas had had good relation with our neighbours such as Ahoms and Manipuris. Occasionally we did fight but we settled out differences sitting together, and we did not interfere in each other’s internal affairs, traditions and culture. Even the British did not do so. But with India it is very different. They say ‘You accept our constitution and you are perfectly free to have your complete autonomy.’ Now these concepts of sovereignty, constitution and autonomy have evolved in Europe within the last 200 to 300 years. India has accepted them as they are. We Nagas have our historical traditions which are very different."
India being a big country took the advantage on the pretext that Nagas are influenced by foreign powers and therefore had to be subdued. Her army was sent to Nagaland first in 1954. The army landed in Tuensang and the war with the Nagas began. Many Nagas were killed, tortured, their fields burned, the women molested and the Church desecrated. Until then, the NNC had been a peaceful organisation and they had decided not to take to arms. But soon afterwards, due to the continuing persecutions at the hands of the Indian army, the NNC passed a resolution to fight back as there was no other way out and the Naga National Army was formed.
In spite of all that India had done to them, the Nagas have not treated Indians as their enemies. Said Mr. Zashei Huire in one of our meetings at a dinner at a Naga friend’s house in Kohima "Go any where in Nagaland, you will see we have not harmed a single Indian living in Nagaland." This was so true as I noticed while moving around. I visited even two Hindu Temples. Nobody ever complained of any trouble from the Nagas.
The point to be noted is that India landed her army first and Nagas took to arms after that, much after that. And in that, the Nagas are right.
Taking a Cause to the World
In the meantime, the Naga leadership in their wisdom decided to go out of Nagaland to communicate to the world the misdeeds of India. And this did have an impact upon the world community.
In a letter, Bertrand Russell, after meeting with Phizo, wrote to Jawaharlal Nehru, that "It seems to me that the Nagas have a cause for grievances." And it appears that Nehru wrote back to him in the same vein, conceding that "We had initially made some mistakes" and that "when the proper time comes, we would try to correct this and try to negotiate and come to some kind of understanding." But at this point of time, China attacked India and, Nehru passed away shortly after and his words did not materialise. This then was the first effort by an influential foreigner like Bertrand Russell who brought about some agreement between India and Nagaland in the quest for peace and an amicable settlement.
An Insight into the Ideologies of Phizo
Allow me to share three events that occurred in the life of Phizo, which shows an insight of his ideas and how his mind worked.
After he left Nagaland, Mr. Phizo passed through Pakistan. To my knowledge, Mr. Yonkong and Mr. Khodao Yanthan accompanied him. Bhutto met them since his idea was that "India’s enemies are Pakistan’s friends". Phizo and his friends were however, according to Yonkong, "in a way kept, under house arrest." When I (J.P. Mishra) last met Yonkong, he told me that Phizo (during this time) once came to his room and said, "Tell me, Yonkong, it looks to me that the Pakistan Government is transfigured; they are going to use us for political purposes without committing themselves to the Naga cause at all. And we will be here for a very long time under house arrest. But tell me, if I die will you carry on the struggle?" So Yonkong told him, "Uncle, believe us we will not surrender like that and we will not be used as tools by Pakistan."
I tell you this because the Indian media often claims that they played into the hands of Pakistan and China, while the truth is that Mr. Phizo did not like Bhutto’s interference in Naga affairs. I guess, Mr. Phizo realised that Bhutto wanted to use them for his political ends and not for the Naga cause.
On another occasion, the leader of an underground organisation in Assam, probably the ULFA, asked me through the Indian Workers Association if he could meet Mr. Phizo. So a meeting was arranged and during the meeting (at which I was present) the leader said, "Mr. Phizo, you are fighting Indian Tyranny, we are fighting in Assam. Can we join hands together? This will give us lots of strength and we can surely try to inflict the greatest harm to the Indian forces." What you will be surprised to know is Mr. Phizo’s reply. He said, "What do you think? Do you think that your fight and my fight are the same? We are fighting for a definite cause. If this cause is simply fighting India and meeting India’s enemies, that will not serve our cause and you are simply a novice in that." He said simply, "Don’t expect Nagas to think of an enemy’s enemy as a friend…it’s not like that…your aims are different and our aims are different. (When I met Mr. T. Muivah in Amsterdam, he told me the same thing, "…. not that India’s enemies are our friends. We certainly don’t accept that." Thus their approaches are identical. )
These two examples show Phizo’s political ideology and the way his mind worked. This makes it all the more unfortunate that the Indian Government did not enter into a political dialogue with the Nagas nor with Mr. Phizo then.
The third event involves an issue that unfortunately continues to drag on with the Nagas even today. A meeting had been arranged between Mr. Phizo and Mr. Tarkunde (a former Chief Justice of Bombay High Court) at the latter’s request. Mr. Tarkunde put a straight question to Phizo, "How do you elect your leader?" (Mr. Tarkunde asked this because his political concept of election was that of India’s and England’s, which conducts elections after every five years and in which the leader of the majority is elected as the leader.) Phizo replied, "Mr. Tarkunde, we do not elect our leader, we select them." So Tarkunde queried what he meant by the term ‘select’ and the process involved therein. Phizo said, "The selection process goes on for several years beginning from the village level where people know each other thoroughly and only people with virtue of integrity and character are accepted to become leaders. Then on the basis of these observations the leaders of the various villages select the most competent person to be the leader. The same is followed through to the national level. Thus a National leader emerges after so many years. In Phizo’s own words, "A leader’s children are not automatically leaders."
Another very important remark Phizo made to me, "Mishra, not a single village is there in Nagaland in all the districts where I did not go at that time. And by the first name of the family I used to call everybody in the village." That was his memory which might sound exaggerated, but I believe cent-percent that he walked from village to village with probably a few friends. And that is how the Naga National consciousness through NNC came to that strength in which every Naga began to consider himself as a "member of NNC by birth."
I believe whatever political concept was there, he was a very truthful man. He would not exaggerate or tell a lie simply to make you think he is a great man. He impressed me as a truthful and honest man and a man of his word.
Phizo in London
Mr. Phizo who lived for about 30 years in London from the 60’s to the 90’s never saw a doctor for his health in all these years, except at the end of his life when he became unconscious for a week. Unlike others in England who took hot baths, Phizo always bathed in cold water. When I was leaving London, I told my son Arun and my daughter-in-law that "Mr. Phizo is a great man and leader" and they should meet him. When we met him, Phizo was so nice to them and he said, "Arun, look, you have to be as good as your father." Arun replied, "Sir, you are so affectionate and loving." Then he came to see me off at the station. I have very sweet memories of Phizo. I tell even those Nagas who are anti- Phizo that "though of course your impression of him is different, as a Naga you are fighting for the same cause. But I am not fighting. I know him as a person who created Naga National Consciousness. He was for me a very great man."
I took so many people - journalists, poets, artists, politicians and others - who wanted to meet Mr. Phizo, and he met them accordingly. Two artists- Piragri Sagra from Gujarat and Devey from Delhi made a good portrait of Mr. Phizo and he obliged them willingly when they asked him to autograph it. In another incident Mr. Mandal (the then Minister of Water and Fisheries from Bengal) wanted to meet and photograph himself with Mr. Phizo and he obliged courteously.
He was always well dressed - suit, ties, well-ironed clothes, stiff sitting postures - and he would customarily greet his guest with a cup of tea. He was never seen in less than a suit and was always well mannered.
Mr. Phizo loved reading and he had a good library. He loved understanding other cultures also. He was also a serious and sensitive man who felt offended when people joked about Nagas as "head-hunters", or as ‘rustics’, ‘junglees’ or ‘uncultured people’. He did not indulge in much light talks or jokes.
When Mr. Vizol became the Chief Minister in Nagaland, he along with some of his cabinet colleagues talked to Jai Prakash (a prominent leader in the land-gift movement) who was undergoing medical treatment at the time and asked him if he could talk to Phizo and do something to finally settle the problem. Jai Prakash admitted his inability to go to London because of his ill health but requested his close friend S.M Joshi, a socialist leader to undertake the journey to London to meet Phizo. Nana Gorey, the then high commissioner, also told him to meet Phizo and explore the possibility of a political settlement between the two sides. S.M Joshi along with two of his friends, M.S. Gokhale and another young socialist from Pune went and stayed with the High Commissioner for five days and all those days Mr. Joshi would go to Mr. Phizo’s place and then to the High Commissioner’s court. In the evening I (J.P Mishra) would meet Joshi at the High Commissioner’s place or talked to him on the phone. And almost daily, I would talk to Mr. Phizo and he would give me almost all the reports with Mr. Joshi. He was very impressed with Mr. Joshi and this was reciprocated back. He remarked that Joshi was the first political leader who he found transparent. When I conveyed this compliment to Joshi, he was very happy and said, "Mishraji, I am not a big man. I’ve been in the political field for a long time and if I cannot be honest and truthful, then I must give up politics." Then he also said, "After having talked to Phizo for five days, it looks to me that the Indian side is at mistake and it can be politically settled." Because Joshi was an official, the Nagaland Government bore all their expenses and Mr. Vizol took their reports which now must be there in the files of the Nagaland and the Central Government. Mr. Vamuzo and Mr. Jamir both told me that they had the reports but did not show it. Kuldip Nayyar once told me he would be ‘very glad’ to see the report. This report is very important and it could prove evidential if it could be brought out.
The problem thus arose during Nehru’s time but he realised only later on that it was a mistake and S.M Joshi was the first prominent Leader from India to meet Phizo and conclude that it was the mistake of India and that the problem could be solved politically. Joshi wanted to talk to Morarji Desai but unfortunately his death prevented that.
Before his death, Joshi also told George Fernandes to meet Phizo while in London and to assess the problem himself. Thus when George Fernandes came to London, he called me and requested me to arrange a meeting with Mr. Phizo. So a meeting was arranged at my place. But before that, George Fernandes wanted to also meet Michael Scott and David Astor. So we met at the Lord’s restaurant. Later on, after leaving David Astor and Michael Scott behind, we went back to my place to find Mr. Phizo and his daughter Adino, already waiting for us. (We took some photographs, copies of which are still with me.) George Fernandes met Phizo for about thirty minutes and formed the opinion ‘that a political settlement can be achieved’ and that ‘Nagas are not to be blamed for the political impasse and India should take the initiative.’ He further said he would talk to Charan Singh, who was the then Prime Minister of India. (George Fernandes was not a minister at that time as he had quit the ministry and joined Charan Singh). However, George Fernandes did nothing after that.
Obstacles to the solution
Factionalism: Factionalism was very apparent when I went to Kohima with Phizo’s body in 1990. This was manifested in the way Muivah’s group, then in their early stages of growth, was prevented from laying a wreathe on Phizo’s mortal remains, although later on they were allowed to do so.
Although Phizo said he was not a signatory and did not approve of Shillong Accord in 1975, the break away factions accused him of not denying the Accord. And this has been the bone of contention till today. If this can be negotiated among the Nagas and Factionalism can be overcome, then the Indian Government has to come to terms with them. However if the Nagas cannot negotiate such an issue, but continue to differ on it, I should say this is due to lack of maturity on the part of the leadership rather than anything else. India had been following a ‘divide and rule’ policy and she wanted factionalism to prevail. So this is what I say, that the younger leadership should come up and say, "Let us unite and negotiate with India politically on terms of equality and on terms with which both the sides are satisfied". And that is possible.
Internal Corruption: Certain Ministers of Nagaland had befriended Indian Officials for their own personal gains to which Mr. Phizo rightly said, "These are the corrupt people."
Bureaucratic Antagonisms: Harish Chandola, a journalist wrote a very good account about the bureaucratic tendencies of the Indian administration, which were responsible for much of the trouble with Nagaland. Wrong reports were given by Sir Akbar Sikander Hydari, the then governor of Assam, and an Assamese Deputy Commissioner, who prevented the Nagas from meeting Nehru when he visited Nagaland with U Nu of Burma. Sir Hydari first entered into the 9-point agreement with the Nagas, which contained a provision for a ten-year interim government to which the Nagas consented. But Sir Hydari without consulting the Nagas added another point- that the Nagas have on their own accord, accepted the agreement with India. That was the attitude of the Bureaucracy and it created many troubles.
In another instance, when the Peace Committee was formed, it was decided that during the Interim peace agreement, Nagas would ‘deposit’ their arms with the Peace Committee. But the Indian side simply changed a word and it read, "The Nagas have agreed to ‘surrender’ their arms…. where-in the original word ‘deposit’ was interchanged with ‘surrender’. This made the Nagas very sensitive and suspicious of the tricks played by the Indian Bureaucracy. Such a way of functioning was a legacy inherited by the Indian bureaucrats from the British.
In another example of the antagonism of the Indian bureaucracy, B.K Nehru (Cousin of J. Nehru) an ICS Officer had an encounter with some Nagas. He said, "You are three millions and we are seven hundred millions. We can eliminate any Naga and nothing will happen to India. Three million people can be killed anytime." This was the arrogance of the bureaucracy at work. Harish Chandola wrote about this and B.K Nehru in his letter to Indira Gandhi, recommended that Harish Chandola be deported back from Nagaland stating that he was creating havoc and siding with the rebels.
Dr. Aram, a social worker, acting as a conduit between Jai Prakash and the Nagas gave a wrong impression of the Nagas and convinced Morarji Desai that it was futile to talk to the Nagas and Mr. Phizo. And because of such ‘contributions’, he was later honoured to become the Vice-Chancellor of a University.
Parthasarthy, a journalist reported to Indira Gandhi, claiming Phizo to be a very rigid man and that he had not changed his views. When I learnt of this I told Phizo who exclaimed that he did not know this man much less meet him! He was later made an Advisor to Indira Gandhi. These people have really misrepresented the problem of the Nagas for their own personal gains.
Phizo welcomed home
I had left London in the 80’s to be back for some work in 1990 when Mr. Phizo passed away. It was late evening when Ms. Adino, Mr. Phizo’s daughter, phoned me to say, "Father is no more" and wept away. Grief over-shadowed as I rushed over to Mr. Phizo’s place. Phizo’s final journey home began. As the chartered plane ferrying the mortal remains of my friend, humbled down to touch the land Phizo loved so dear, we were greeted by a bowing rainbow and multitudes of respectful citizens gathered humbly to pay their dutiful homage to a leader who gave his all. As we slowly proceeded on the final 74 kms journey to Kohima from Dimapur, I saw the entire length of the road lined on both sides with Nagas both young and old, male and female, people in tears, and motor cars lined up as far as the eye could see, accompanying his mortal remains. I was deeply touched by Nagaland and her people. Truly, he was a very deeply respected leader and he had come home to rest forever.
If Adino and Kevilevo, Isak and Muivah and Khaplang come and start to live in Nagaland, then they will, in some way or the other, come to understand each other. The leadership should therefore, come to Nagaland even at the risk of being arrested by the Indian Government. Even if they are arrested, there will be a new awakening amongst the Naga people.
On the Phone, Kaka D. Iralu told me that his effort has been that all the groups become a member of the Committee in this Centenary and that through this Centenary, an effort would be made to reach an understanding amongst Nagas to talk to India on a common platform. If this materialise, it will be most wonderful. I do long for such a day.