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His mortal remains now interred with those of his proud forebears, Melhupra Vero is back where his heart always was – his loved Rünguzhumi village. He has ranged out far and wide and played his role to help his people.
Invited by him I was given the privilege to be closely associated with Naga Hoho at the initial stages when he was its first illustrious President. There was universal consensus among all Naga tribes that he was the man for the dangers and opportunities in the threatening crisis all Nagas had inevitably produced in their different ways struggling to become a people and nation. The secret of his effectiveness as a leader was his readiness to say “I do not know” whenever that was the fact. It enabled others also to go forward with him.
The restoration of unity of the Naga family was Vero’s deepest longing. The trust and goodwill for one another his leadership started to generate made all Nagas believe afresh in the vision “Nagas are One”. He fought for it with conviction and a sense of urgency. He will be remembered for Naga Hoho’s resolute search with Nagaland Christian Forum for unity through all tribes, factions and parties sacrificing selfish agendas. He travelled extensively undeterred by road conditions to all regions of the Naga homeland; even walked where roads did not exist, to call the best out of leaders, their tribes and factions to rise to the occasion. With experience and wisdom drawn from his years of public leadership he inspired all tribes to feel equally important, needed and responsible to strive together for what must be achieved for the Naga journey to continue.
We are naturally dismayed that we are known more for our disunity than our unity today. What matters is our resolve not to accept division as inevitable but to fight for unity by accepting costly changes in ourselves that inspire others also to change to enable our society to grow properly. Nagas are slowly learning to look at their mistakes and shortcomings and asking the right questions about pride, ego, selfishness and irresponsibility.
Vivid memories of Vero’s shrewdness, humility, unfailing sense of humour and genuine goodwill for all stand out, as I try to reflect on what he gave to his people as a public leader.
All who had come to Zunheboto in 1997 for the first session of the newly formed Naga Hoho will recall Vero’s first speech as the first President. It will be remembered for its elegant brevity, simplicity and wisdom.
After his election was announced the clapping and call for him to say something was tumultuous. Vero slowly walked up to the platform wearing his iconic stylish hat enhancing his handsome face all the more. As he waved to the audience and silence fell Vero said: “I know I am not a good man. But if the Nagas think I am good, I am very happy. And as I also know I am not a clever and able man in any field, I must tell you I will not be able to do anything good for the Nagas. But I promise I will not do anything bad for our people. I ask you and God to help me. Thank you.”
The virtual birth of hope in the hearts of all who greeted him that memorable day was evident in the shouts and whistles of joy. How true it is that for a speech to be memorable it is not necessary for it to be eternal!
No wonder, General Maken, one of the two Vice-Presidents, not known to be needlessly talkative, muttered, “Vero, you are not simple and stupid ho!?” as they watched from the podium the thousands from all tribes streaming into the Kohima football ground for the December 20, 2001 launching of the short-lived Naga National Reconciliation.
The other important lesson from Vero’s speech that day is his humility about his role and its value and strength because of it: “I will not do anything bad.”
Just think! Will not Nagaland receive an earthquake-like shake-up and start to grow properly if all of us who say we are not good enough to do what is good, will just decide not to do what is bad! After all our problems all originate only from the bad things we do! Here is an observation of reality so typical of the wizard of Rünguzhumi! I treasure a number of similar entertaining anecdotes we his associates regularly enjoyed and learned much from.
In Melhupra Vero’s passing Nagas have lost a rare leader whose strength came from realistic understanding of people and issues, sincere goodwill for all and faith in God.
Since his going I have talked to most of those colleagues still surviving who felt blest working with him for the objectives we believed in and fought for with him. We name Melhupra our loved and valued friend and brother and bid him farewell ‘in proud recollection and humble affection’. We have no doubt what he did and gave lives on in our search and unyielding struggle to become what we must become despite our shortcomings and failures.
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new”. This thought of Socrates comes to mind as we ponder on Melhupra Vero’s best efforts in his last years to help our people respond to the challenges confronting us.
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