Nagas Divided over Modi's Plan to Glorify Spiritual Leader

The Congress alleged that the BJP was trying to gain foothold in the state by glorifying Gaidinliu and her traditional Naga religion of animism ‘Heraka’.
Nagas Divided over Modi's Plan to Glorify Spiritual Leader

GUWAHATI: The Centre’s attempt to ‘glorify’ Naga spiritual leader and freedom fighter Rani Gaidinliu by constructing a memorial museum-cum-library in Kohima under the patronage of Nagaland government has outraged the state’s civil society organisations and the opposition—Congress. The churches and a section of the insurgents have also decided to oppose the move.

While the civil society organisations warned that they would resist the ‘institutionalisation of any culture or cult that is not compatible to the practices and beliefs of the indigenous people’, the Congress alleged that the BJP was trying to gain foothold in the state by glorifying Gaidinliu and her traditional Naga religion of animism ‘Heraka’.

Born in Manipur, Gaidinliu was fondly called Rani by former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. She preached ‘Heraka’ and resisted the conversion of Nagas to Christianity. Last week, after releasing coins of Rs 5 and Rs 100 denominations with her images on them to commemorate her birth centenary, Prime Minister Narendra Modi criticised the historians for ‘ignoring’ the contributions of people from Northeast to India’s freedom movement.

“If generations of Indians had learnt about the great personalities of the Northeast like Ranima (Gaidinliu) for the last 60 years, there wouldn’t have been any separatism. People like her lived and died for this country,” Modi had said during the programme in New Delhi.

But the Nagas say that Gaidinliu was a cult leader who had opposed Naga nationalism and the advent of Christianity in the state.

“At no point in history did the Nagas acknowledge or attribute her as their spiritual leader except Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God,” says Rev Dr Zelhou Keyho, the general secretary of the Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC).

The influential Angami Public Organisation (APO) says it failed to comprehend the ‘logic and sagacity’ behind Nagaland chief minister TR Zeliang’s efforts to recognise a ‘non-indigenous lady’.

“When the government can neither provide nor sustain basic amenities and infrastructures to its citizens owing to lack of funds, the memorial project affecting the state exchequer is too absurd and infuriating,” APO says in a statement.

The Naga National Council (NNC), which had launched the Naga insurgency movement seven decades ago, condemned the Centre and Zeliang for trying to glorify the “pro-Indian and anti-Naga nationalist”.

“Gaidinliu was given the sobriquet ‘Rani’ by Nehru because of her anti-Naga stance. It is unfortunate that the Centre is trying to prop her up as a pro-India Naga icon,” the NNC says.

The insurgent group alleges that by constructing the memorial museum-cum-library, the VHP and the RSS are trying to integrate Heraka and Hinduism, ‘though they have nothing in common’.

The Congress says it does not mind the celebrations of the Rani’s birth centenary but it will not subscribe to the BJP government’s projection of her as the ‘spiritual leader’ of the Nagas. “This projection, carefully orchestrated by BJP’s ideological mentor RSS, is an attempt to create communal disharmony among the Nagas,” the Congress alleges.

The party also says the BJP’s hailing Gaidinliu as a pro-India Naga icon for her opposition to Naga nationalism, was an insult to thousands of Nagas who had given their lives for the cause of the Nagas. As the protests against the memorial grow louder in Nagaland, the construction work has been halted.

The Nagas practising Heraka, however, are miffed over the developments. “It is unfortunate that the work has been halted. But they (Nagas) always tend to oppose indigenous faith,” Ramkui Newme, president of Heraka Association, tells The Sunday Standard.

Today, there are around 20,000 Heraka followers, who are scattered in parts of Nagaland, Manipur and Assam. “Around 5,000 of them practise it in Nagaland and Manipur. The remaining 15,000 followers are in Assam,” Newme says.

He does not deny the growing influence of RSS and VHP in places where Heraka is practised. “Yes, they have built some educational institutes and hostels in our areas, but then, they take such initiatives all across the country,” Newme adds.

Who is Rani Gaidinliu?

Rani Gaidinliu was born in 1915 in the present day Tamenglong district of Manipur and died in 1993. She joined the Heraka movement, started by her cousin Haipou Jadonang, at the age of 13. She also spearheaded an armed uprising against the British.

Gaidinliu was arrested in 1932 at the age of 17 and was sentenced to life by the British rulers. During incarceration, she was kept in several prisons in the Northeast.

In 1937, Jawaharlal Nehru met her at the Shillong Jail and promised to pursue her release. Gaidinliu shot to fame after Nehru gave her the sobriquet ‘Rani’.  She was released from jail two months after India’s independence in August, 1947.

The Nagas view Gaidinliu as an outsider and call her the cult leader. She had opposed their conversion to Christianity and Naga nationalism. The Heraka religion, which she preached, is now practised in parts of Nagaland, Manipur and Assam.

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