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A Meeting in London

By the time the summer of 1977 arrived, Mr. A.Z. Phizo had been living in London for 17 years. During these 17 years, Phizo had never missed any opportunity whereby he could propagate the Naga cause or make known to the outside world the plight of the Nagas back here in the Naga hills. He had submitted letters and memorandums in the UNO, written to the Indian government and had also given interviews and press conferences. However, till then or rather through out his stay in London, Phizo was unable to get the response or reaction he would have wanted either from the world or from the Indian government.

However, by the end of March 1977, Phizo must have felt some new hopes and expectations with regard to the Indo-Naga conflict. This is so because, for the first time since India’s independence in 1947, a non-Congress party took over the reins of the government here in India ushering in a new political era.  
From the time the Indian National Congress was formed in the year 1885, the Congress party and its prominent leaders started to dominate Indian politics and played a pioneering role in the struggle against colonial rule. Outstanding leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Motilal and Jawaharlal Nehru, G.K. Gokhale, Tilak and even M.A. Jinnah were all associated at one point or the other with the Indian National Congress. Many of these congress leaders played crucial roles in the struggle for India’s independence which was finally attained in August 1947.

Therefore, it was no surprise that after India’s independence, the Congress party and its leaders took over the reins of the Indian government under the prime minister-ship of Jawaharlal Nehru. For about 30 years (1947 – 1977) this congress party and its leaders ruled supreme in the country with no other political party worthy of mention to rival it. This meant that everything that happened in the Naga hills during this period (1947 – 1977) were also done under the orders and patronage of the Congress party and leaders. Of course, things could have been much different if Mahatma Gandhi had not been assassinated in January 1948. This is so because Mahatma Gandhi had already given his assurance that the Nagas would not be forced to join the Indian union if they desire to remain independent and Gandhi was not someone to backtrack on his statement. And it would have been really difficult for the other Congress leaders to ignore or overrule the wishes of the great Mahatma.

Thus, after 30 years of Congress rule in India, the Janata Dal party under the leadership of Morarji Desai took over the reins of the government on 24th March 1977. With this change in government, many Indians themselves must have expected new policies and new and positive changes to come about. Similarly, Phizo and the other NNC leaders must have also thought that they could expect and even get some new developments and positive outcomes with regard to the Indo-Naga conflict also.

It was under these circumstances that A.Z. Phizo was able to set up a meeting with none other than the Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai who was expected to be in London in June 1977. Phizo was able to set up this meeting with the Indian Prime Minister through his niece Mrs. Rano who was a member of the Indian parliament at that time. Mr. Morarji Desai agreed to meet Phizo in London but he had made it clear to Mrs. Rano that he would meet Phizo only as a person and would not discuss anything with him pertaining to the Indo-Naga conflict.
Our records say that Mr. Morarji Desai was born in the year 1896. This meant that when he became the prime minister of India in 1977 he was about 81 years old. Phizo was 73 years old when this meeting took place in London in June 1977.   

The meeting took place on 14th June 1977 at the Indian High Commissioner Office in London. That day Phizo went to the Indian High Commissioner Office with some of his colleagues and also his son and daughter.
The conversation between Desai and Phizo started with the Indian Prime Minister enquiring about the paralysis that had affected Phizo’s face. To this, Phizo replied that he was a war prisoner in Burma in 1942 and that it was during this time that his face got infected.  

During the course of the conversation, Phizo tried his best to bring up and discuss the Naga issue with the Indian Prime Minister but Mr. Desai blatantly refused to discuss anything pertaining to this topic. Phizo even mentioned that Mahatma Gandhi himself had assured the NNC in 1947 that the Nagas would not be forced to join the Indian union. However, here also, Mr. Desai told Phizo not to bring up Gandhi’s name as he knew Gandhi much better than him. And when Phizo mentioned that his people had been suffering for a very long time, Mr. Desai refused to agree. The Indian Prime Minister rather said that only some few rebels had been creating nuisance in the Naga hills and that he would even go to the extent of exterminating all the Naga rebels. Regarding the state of Nagaland that was created in 1963, Mr. Desai said that it was the Nagas themselves who came asking for statehood within the Indian union and as such it was given to them.

In this meeting, Phizo was given the opportunity to introduce his colleagues and his son and daughter to the Indian Prime Minister but when Phizo enquired whether there would be any more discussion between him and the Prime Minister in the future, Mr. Desai replied that there was nothing to discuss.    
Mr. Khadao who was also with Phizo that day even told the Indian Prime Minister that they expected so much from him since he had also struggled so much in his own life. However, even this fell on deaf ears.   
It was said that Phizo secretly recorded the entire conversation that took place between himself and the Indian Prime Minister at this meeting. It was also said that these recordings were even circulated in Nagaland sometime after.

Of course, nothing positive or beneficial for the Nagas could result out of this meeting because of the stubbornness and the blatant refusal of Mr. Desai to acknowledge the real and prevailing situation here in the lands of the Nagas. Mr. Morarji Desai was known as an upholder and follower of Gandhian principles. But he also refused to acknowledge and honor what the Mahatma had said to the Naga leaders way back in July 1947. Maybe this is why it is said ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. In July 1947, Mahatma Gandhi had told a delegation of the NNC that the Nagas had every right to be independent and that India would not force the Nagas and their lands to become a part of the Indian union. But now, these words of Gandhi seemed to have been relegated to the unknown and non-prevalent history.   

However, it is still fascinating to know that a meeting of this nature really took place in London between an Indian Prime Minister and a legendary Naga personality who was the undisputed leader of his people in his time and who carried with him the mandate of the Naga people wherever he went. It is indeed fascinating to know that this meeting took place not in Kohima or Shillong or even in New Delhi but in London which is the centre and symbol of western civilization and that also in 1977 when many of the present Naga population were not even born. Ever since I came to know about this meeting more than 25 years ago, I have always been captivated by it. It still captures my imagination and I am somehow forced to recall the life and times of a legend and also the troubled times experienced by the Nagas in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

It is also worthy to mention here that even though Phizo lived in London for 30 years, this was the only instance when he came face to face with an Indian Prime Minister. None of the other Prime Ministers starting from Nehru down to V.P. Singh never even bothered to meet the NNC president. Of course, Phizo did come face to face with Jawaharlal Nehru but that was long before he set his foot upon the soils of London.

Meanwhile, Morarji Desai served as Prime Minister till 28th July 1979 after which Charan Singh took over. However, the Janata Dal government could not even complete its 5–years term and by January 1980 the Congress party came back to power under the leadership of Indira Gandhi.

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