Looking back on Vamuzo Phesao’s fully-lived life, one thinks of the issues of politics, history and economics that engrossed his mind and heart. They concerned him so much that he relentlessly fought for them.
As the ecstatic triumphalism of the vast majority of Indians shocks the minorities following the Supreme Court’s judgment, I am recalling a highly creative idea Vamuzo took to Delhi on his first visit to the capital as the new chief minister of Nagaland while attending the meeting of chief ministers that V.P. Singh, the new Prime Minister, had called to deliberate on the Ayodhya-Babri Masjid crisis.
The first thing Vamuzo did on reaching Delhi was to call on Shahi Imam Bukhari of the Jama Masjid, the leading Muslim voice in the crisis. The members of the powerful committee for the protection of Babri Masjid were also present with the Imam. After paying tribute to the magnificent, multi-faceted heritage buildings, so evident all over Delhi and which Islam had bequeathed to modern India, Vamuzo said:
“Our voice and our numerical strength are insignificant in the present dispute between the two contending giants, the Hindus and the Muslims. But on behalf of my people, the Nagas, I would like to say that to the countless millions of devout Hindus, Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Ram, must be what Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, is to us Christians. So, we can understand what they feel. I venture therefore to humbly but urgently appeal to you to please make an inspired gesture that will touch and satisfy the hearts of the Hindus without harming the dignity and message of Islam. Indeed, in doing what is right for Hindus on this issue will be a strong affirmation of the true greatness of Islam. Such a generous gesture would lead to the followers of all the religions of India offering to help our Hindu brothers and sisters to build a temple for understanding, healing and true worship. In view of the rising communal tension in the country, allow me to make this fervent appeal to your Eminence for high statesmanship”.
The Shahi Imam listened quietly and nodded gently in response. One could feel the burden of history weighing on his shoulders. The editor of an Urdu paper – who had acted as an interpreter – while escorting Nagaland’s chief minister to his car said, “I was so moved by the challenge of the appeal from the Naga people that you expressed (sic). I found it difficult to speak. Thank you for thinking of us and trying to help us.”
It was an initiative Nagas could be proud of. It gave a glimpse of the creative, healing roles we can play despite our many limitations if our purpose and meaning of life are relevant in a world looking for resolutions. (Vamuzo’s appeal to the Muslim leadership, through the Shahi Imam, at the height of the crisis is recorded in Zapra Chakhesang’s A Brief Biography of Vamuzo).
This article was first published in Nagaland Today.
The author is the brother-in-law of former Nagaland CM Vamuzo Phesao. He is a trustee of Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research, New Delhi and Guwahati. Views are personal.