When the “Jet Fighter” President comes in Nagaland!

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By Oken Jeet Sandham: The visit of Nagaland by any Presidents is history. The people of Nagaland would be happier to welcome such country’s head in their own soil. Such occasion would be Nagas’ “pride and joy.” The memory is still fresh and it will remain so in the minds of the Naga people of the inauguration of the Nagaland Statehood as the 16th State of the Union of India by none other than the 2nd President of the Republic India, Dr S Radhakrishnan, on December 1, 1963 here at the famous Kohima Football Ground. The arduous journey of Nagaland began from this momentous chapter.

When the news of the President Pratibha Patil’s visiting to Nagaland came in, waves of enthusiasms of welcoming her are felt; all the more so because she is the first Indian woman to have occupied the highest constitutional position of the country.

Patil entered into active politics at an early age and at the age of 27, she successfully contested her first election to the Maharashtra State legislature from the Jalgoan Assembly constituency. She served as a Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha from 1985 to 1990 and later elected as a Member of Parliament in the Lok Sabha in the 1991 General Elections from the Amravati constituency, Maharashtra. In fact, she enjoyed the unique distinction of not having lost a single election that she contested.

She held various Ministerial portfolios in Maharashtra and also once President of Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee from 1988 to 1990. Prior to her election as the 12th President of the country, Patil served as a Governor of Rajasthan.

Her predecessor Dr APJ Abdul Kalam was a typical, yet a practical man. He was people’s President and accessible by many wherever he toured. His visit to Nagaland on 26th October, 2002 soon after his assuming office of President was a “memorable one.”

Dr Kalam first landed in Tuensang and then came to Kohima by chopper to attend civic reception at Khuzama Public Ground. Before addressing the massive crowd at the Khuzama Public Ground, he met Khuzama Village Council members.

Soon after the civic reception program was over, the missile man walked down the rostrum and chose to walk through the milling crowd, avoiding the VVIP car waiting for him in front of the rostrum, to interact with the school children eagerly waiting for him across the road at their small school compound.

I was with him while he was interacting with the school children at Khuzama and he really ignited the minds of them to become powerful leaders and great scientists of the country and make India a developed and powerful nation in the world. He was a role model to many young Naga students who had freely and frankly interacted with him sitting as close as two feet away from him. He was unassuming and was generally loved by the people of the country in general and children and students in particular.

I am deeply touched when he recalled about his memorable visit to Nagaland in one of his speeches after completing his eventful years in Rashtrapati Bhavan. He said, “It was a unique experience for me at Khuzama village to meet tribal village council members and discuss with them the village progress and the dream of the village citizens. I was very happy to see the empowered village council functioning with financial powers and taking decisions. I saw a prosperous village with fruits and vegetables production. However, there is a need for providing physical connectivity in Nagaland through quality roads for enabling faster movement of products from villages to the market. That meeting gave me a powerful message about the transformation which can take place to the 600,000 villages of India, if all the villages are empowered to deal with the development and are well connected among themselves and with the urban societies.”

I still have a fair question as to whether we can have such a President today who is practical and sincere to the citizens of the country.

On the contrary, President Patil’s coming to Nagaland happens to be much after her assuming office of President on July 25, 2007. She is the 12th President of India and also the first woman to have been elected to this august office. Her coming to Nagaland would, however, bring a lot hope and aspirations to the Nagas.

Our country has 28 States and 7 Union Territories including Delhi. So if the President of the country fails to visit any of the States during their 5-year tenure, it will make no sense. Mostly those States lying in extreme corners of northeastern region bordering China, Myanmar, Bhutan and Bangladesh cannot see their President coming to their States at least once in their 5-year tenure, there is every possibility for them to feel isolated or neglected. And also the President being a Supreme Commander of the country’s Armed Forces should instead visit this part of the country not as ritual but as often as possible for the fact that there has been increasing threats towards India from the neighboring China. Over the years, China has been seen as overtly aggressive against India and they even claimed Arunachal Pradesh as part of their territory. There has been a feeling that the Center has not done enough to counter such design by its counterpart. In such a situation, the President’s visit in the region will restore the confidence of the fast erosion of nationalism character.

President Patil’s visit to Nagaland has come at a time when the State is relatively peaceful due to the ongoing political negotiations between the representatives of the Government of India and the NSCN (IM) and reconciliation initiatives of the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR) and other agencies as well. The NSCN (K) is also in truce with the Government of India and they are yet to start political negotiation with the latter.

Just a few months back, the State was also privileged to have country’s Vice President Dr M Hamid Ansari and his lady wife Salma Ansari. The Vice President came to grace for the First World Bamboo Day at Heritage Village, Kisama.

Our visiting President will have a massive “civic reception” at the same venue. As per the initial report came in media, she was to first visit Tuensang before coming to Kohima. It now stands for only Kohima due to time constraints and her heavy schedule as reported and also the state Chief Secretary clarified that, “There was no mention that the President would likely to visit any other place or village outside Kohima.” Vice President Dr Ansari, while at Kohima, too was supposed to visit Tuensang after his program at Kisama but failed to make it because of the inclement weather and finally decided to visit Kigwema.

It is, however, regrettable that the President would reportedly have 20 minutes for interaction with many NGOs, civil society leaders, etc. on March 10 before proceeding to attend the “civic reception” at the Naga Heritage Village, Kisama. But I wonder what productive message she would carry back to Delhi if she does not give sufficient time to leaders of various tribal organizations and civil societies. Instead she should put more emphasis on such so-called rarest interactions with these leaders as she would only be able to hear the genuine voices of the people from them who have been experiencing a new lease of life over the year following relative peace prevailing in their State. There has been drastic reduction of factional related violence in the State over the years and this development itself is a major step forward towards building a strong platform where people from all walks of life would ultimately come for free and frank discussions without any fear.

Here I only remember what Dr Radhakrishnan said while inaugurating the Nagaland statehood that, “The administrators must examine the human, the healing touch in their relations with the people and should not deprive the Naga of their innocent joys, their songs and dances, their feasts and festivals, which are not repugnant to our moral sense.”

Nevertheless, I will always salute “Her Excellency” for her courage for personally flying a fighter jet, the Russian-designed Su-30 MKI at the Lohegoan airbase in Pune on November 25, 2009 at her respectable age of 74. Of course, her predecessor as the President of India, then 74-year-old Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, also flew a Su-30 MKI in 2006 during his tenure in office. Yet I don’t take it a strange though, because he is a “man.”

Dr Radhakrishnan also said, “Nothing can stem the tide of progress of India if 450 million people are determined to achieve it by hard work, discipline and determination.”

Today we have a President who could fly “fighter jet” and with this big heart and strong mind, there is hope that she would surely do something for the people who want to live in peace once and for all. It is now over one billion people after 48 years of Nagaland statehood. One wonders if Dr Radhakrishnan’s vision will ever remain elusive or find its destination.

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