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First Person: Part 2: Naga leaders and Anecdotes

Hokishe Rajiv
Hokishe Sema with Rajiv Gandhi

Nirendra Dev
NEW DELHI, JANUARY 14: It would be worth sharing veteran Hokishe Sema’s grasp on national politics, especially in the context of the emergence of PV NarasimhaRao after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination on May 21, 1991.
Hokishe was delighted that Rao, as Congress president, had announced organisational elections.
Hokishe knew the last time the Congress had intra-party polls was in 1972.
He knew pretty well how Congress functioned between 1972 and 1991. Despite all these, he remained a Congress follower and as expected also a great admirer of Indira Gandhi.
He used to mention leaders like Digvijaya Singh in Madhya Pradesh and SM Krishna in Karnataka.
“I admire Rao’s style of functioning. All these State leaders are not nominated and are getting their positions by being elected and on their merits. This change is refreshing”, Hokishe had said.
Hokishe reportedly argued even with late AZ Phizo and had told him that the ‘Naga movement’ entering the violent phase was the most dangerous and harmful thing to happen.
Late Vamuzo was an enterprising politician. His friendship with ‘news agency’ journalists in Kohima (before me) is legendary.
As the Chief Minister and Working President of NPC, during the Lok Sabha poll campaign 1991 he took me on his campaign trail in Mokokchung, Tuensang, Zunheboto and Wokha districts. It was an experience to count on later in framing my understanding about Nagaland State politics.
He used to be frank and also counseled at times, “Do not write much on the underground, it is only blame giving syndrome for now. We are also in blame giving, but between me and Jamir and other Congress leaders we are very good friends at personal level”.
In fact, Jamir-Vamuzo friendship used to be on display in State assembly proceedings too.
Once Jamir blasted him saying, “I don’t know why this dull fellow is sitting here”.
To the utter astonishment even of younger legislators like R Paphino (a former NSF president),
Vamuzo was laughing in response. A few minutes later he jumped up on his feet and said:
“What to say, you are a habitual liar”. Both Jamir and Vamuzo started laughing.
Shurhozelie, then Vamuzo’s esteemed colleague, was also apparently surprised and he stood up saying, “Sir, my suggestion is next time when the Government High School debate competition is there, I think both these leaders should be invited as chief guests”.
In interaction with journalists, Vamuzo would also gesticulate a lot. Once at the Kohima football stadium VIP rostrum, I asked him whether all Congress Ministers (under his JLP Ministry) would be ‘dropped’.
He attracted the notice of all as he gestured with all his ten fingers and said, “Keep your fingers crossed”.
Chingwang Konyak, now the NDPP president, has always been a man of mild manners.
But his soft-spoken style was never a sign of weakness. On issues he could be very assertive.
On becoming State Congress president (of course helped by Jamir as the latter wanted to
Sideline Shikiho Sema), Chingwang had told me, “I am not a rubber stamp president of SC Jamir or anyone else”. During the 1993 Assembly polls and at later stage, he fell out with SC Jamir quite bitterly.
He would punctuate most of his sentences with a simple phrase, “I mean”.
Also a good reader, a rare quality among Naga politicians of his time, Chingwang would be quoting Swami Vivekananda to Salman Rushdie. “History belongs to dreamers”, he said at the launch of NDM party in Dimapur but the party itself did not last long.
Late Chalie Kevichusa is one person worth mentioning here. An Editor of Ura Mail, he knew the art of never mixing politics with journalism.
When Vamuzo’s poster went all around Kohima and Dimapur seeking votes for ImchalembaAo as NPC candidate for 1991 Lok Sabha polls, Chalie had written a piece under title, “Hey, Imcha looks like Vamuzo”.
On the functioning of controversial Governor Lok Nath Mishra, Chalie in one of his last interviews to me (days before he was shot down in Dimapur), had said, “Instead of a Congress Chief Minister, we have a Congress Governor”.
Late Shikiho Sema’s press interactions would never be complete without mentioning the names of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. A ‘nationalist’ to the core, Shikiho also named his son Bharato.
Once he conducted himself in an unusual manner at the Postal Telegraph office in Kohima as he wanted to send a telegram to Delhi. “This was an urgent message from a Member of Parliament, not my love letter”, he defended his action. The then CM Vamuzo later called it ‘goondaism’.
And Shikiho Sema did not mind addressing me “Nirendraji” a number of times. This was good fodder for my egos.
Such salutation did not come to me even in Delhi.