Octogenarian Naga nationalist, Bendangangshi at his residence in Ungma village, Mokokchung. (Morung Photo)
Octogenarian Naga nationalist Bendangangshi walks down memory lane as an 18-year old when he appended his thumb impression for ‘Naga independence’
Morung Express News
Mokokchung | May 15
68 years ago, in 1951, a young 18-year old Bendangangshi of Ungma village appended his thumb impression in favour of independence at the historic Naga Plebiscite. Today, at the age of 87, Bendangangshi says that it was for “Naga freedom” when asked what the Naga Plebiscite meant to him. Though he could not recollect the exact date of the Plebiscite conducted in his village, Bendangangshi vividly narrates how AZ Phizo, president of NNC, and Imkongmeren, vice-president of NNC, came to his native Ungma village and addressed the villagers at the village square.
“It must be somewhere in the archives,” said Bendangangshi, pointing to his personal library shelves, when asked if he had any recorded details of the Naga Plebiscite conducted in his village including its exact date.
A staunch regionalist, Bendangangshi still cherishes “Naga freedom” and believes that the Framework Agreement has paved the way forward for Indo-Naga political settlement. He claimed that NSCN (IM) general secretary Th. Muivah was his “bosom friend” whom he first met in 1960 at a Naga Army Camp somewhere between his village and Dikhu River, when the former was the general secretary of NNC. He also said that he had been to Bangkok 6 times to meet his “bosom friend.”
Asked about his personal opinion on the current state of affairs, he believed that the various Naga political groups were working together with an “understanding” between them and that the “Naga Constitution” is being drafted with the help of “constitutional experts” which might take some time to complete as it is “time consuming.” He is confident that the Indo-Naga political problem will be settled “when the Naga Constitution is drafted and approved, sooner than later.”
Four years after participating in the Naga Plebiscite, Bendangangshi joined the Naga national movement in 1955 after appearing his Class 10 exams. He was also imprisoned 3 times while serving the Naga movement in various capacities as a youth leader. He was serving the Naga Army in the rank of a colonel when his camp was attacked by the Kumaon Regiment of Indian Army on July 11, 1957 which he narrowly escaped with 12 bullet wounds.
Bendangangshi later did his Bachelors in Theology from ETC Jorhat and successfully pursued his Bachelor of Arts from Fazl Ali College, Mokokchung. He was also elected twice to the Nagaland Legislative Assembly from Aonglenden assembly constituency and is a founding member of the Naga People’s Front. He has also written a number of books, notable among which are Glimpses of Naga History, Religion of the Ao Nagas, and “Chilushi – A Drama in Ao Naga.”
Born May 7, 1933, the octogenarian Naga nationalist lives a quiet retired life in his native village today after a checkered career, albeit being caught up in hopes of an early Indo-Naga political settlement. “A republican presidential system,” he says, when asked which form of government the Naga nation would have when solution arrived. “Only a handful of us who participated in the Plebiscite are alive today in my village,” he said, as he reminisced on the historic political exercise that set the uniqueness of Naga aspiration apart.
On this day
May 16, 1951, was the day earmarked for the inauguration of the Naga Plebiscite, which continued for three months hence. Naga people gathered at Khuochiezie (Kohima Local Ground) to give their thumb impression to the independence of the Naga Nation. The core aim of the Plebiscite was to strengthen the declaration of Naga independence on August 14, 1947. The plebiscite, recorded through thumb impression, included both Naga women and men above the age of 16, born before 1935.