Keishing's life, a statement of faith in democratic system

Keishing's life, a statement of faith in democratic system

He comes straight from the epicenter of longest-run secessionist insurgency of India. Yet his life has so far been a statement of faith in democratic system of the country.

Roaring applause reverberated through the imposing dome of the Central Hall of the Parliament Building, as Rishang Keishing was felicitated by President Pratibha Patil on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the sanctum sanctorum of democracy in India.

Keishing was a member of the first Lok Sabha that had its first sitting on May 13 in 1952. The 92-year-old has not yet retired though. He is still a parliamentarian – now a member of the Rajya Sabha, which too had met first on this day six decades ago.

Also felicitated on Sunday were Kandala Subramanyam and K Mohan Rao of Andhra Pradesh and Resham Lal Jangde of Chhattisgarh – all members of the first Lok Sabha. Keishing however stood out among the four, as he was the lone surviving link between the first and current Parliaments.

Keishing, a Thangkhul Naga, was born at Ukhrul in Manipur on October 25, 1920. He shares his birthplace, which has also been his political turf over the past six decades, with another well-known personality – Thuingelang Muivah, the chief of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), which now leads the six-decade-long armed rebellion by the Nagas.

But Keishing and Muivah do not share anything more than their roots. Muivah, despite more-than-a-decade long peace-process between the Centre and NSCN (IM), still maintains that Naga areas – Nagaland as well as parts of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam – had never been a part of India. Keishing, on the other hand, has been unflinchingly faithful to the Constitution of India all through his political career – as Member of Legislative Assembly of Manipur, Chief Minister of the State and of course as Member of Parliament.

Before entering into ceasefire agreement with the Union Government, the NSCN (IM) had made several attempts on his life. He survived all though. After the peace-parleys went underway in late 1990s, the NSCN (IM) changed tack and its tacit campaign during 2002 assembly polls in Manipur ensured Keishing’s defeat in his home-turf Phungyar.

Keishing has since long been in favour of dialogues to end insurgency. He recalls stopping the then Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru in the corridor of Parliament in early 1950s and requesting him to have talks with Angami Zapu Phizo, the patriarch of Naga insurgency who had then just floated the Naga National Council to launch the rebellion against India. “Panditji was angry and did not want to talk with secessionists. But then he told me to tell Phizo to talk to the then Home Minister first,” recalled Keishing, who was elected to the first LS as a candidate of the Praja Socialist Party and later joined the Congress. 

PM Manmohan Singh, Vice President Hamid Ansari and Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar joined President to felicitate Keishing on Sunday. The veteran MP walked down the memory lane and recalled a meeting he had as CM of Manipur with Singh, the then Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, sometime in mid-1980s. 

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