The state of Meghalaya came into being on January 21, 1972. The Prime Minister Indira Gandhi came personally to inaugurate the new state at Polo Grounds, Shillong on that day. Amidst joyous cheers and thunderous clapping of hands, she urged citizens of the new state to contribute their might in order to build a vibrant and prosperous Meghalaya. Prior to that, it was an Autonomous State for nearly two years since April 2, 1970.
The creation of Meghalaya is unique in history in the sense that under the able and wise leadership there was no bloodshed unlike in other cases. Many of these noble men and women are no longer with us. But their names will live on forever in the minds and hearts of those who inherit their legacy. However, the leader who stands tallest of all is Indira Gandhi who, like her father Pandit Jawarharlal Nehru, understood very clearly the sentiments and aspirations of the hill people. She even managed to pacify, through her wit and diplomacy, opposition to the creation of the new state, chief among whom was the her powerful cabinet colleague Morarji Desai.
The term Meghalaya, which is of Sanskrit origin, was coined by SP Chatterjee, Professor Emeritus, department of geography, Calcutta University. It is a combination of two words: Megham meaning clouds and alayam meaning abode. Hence, in its entirety Meghalaya signifies abode of the clouds. Initially, there was a lot of outcry over the name. Nevertheless, as time went on, it proved to be a soothing factor.
During the Quit India Movement, some hill leaders became apprehensive about the future of a tiny minuscule indigenous tribes of North East, especially of present-day Meghalaya. Due to illiteracy, perhaps, and communication problems, the aspirations could not develop into a unifying and spontaneous action. A few chiefs of the Khasi principalities, known as Syiems (equivalent of Kings), who refused to sign the Instrument of Accession were kowtowed by diplomacy and ever coercion. The exception was Wickcliff Syiem, deputy Syiem of Nongstoin Syiemship, who preferred self-exile in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
It was not until 1952 when an outburst by young students of St Anthony’s College, Shillong, among whom was Hoover Hynniewta, spilled out openly into the streets. A group of college-educated boys were angry at the dictatorial attitude of the Assam government which exercised its constitutional power of nominating six MDCs to the 24-strong membership of the then United Khasi and Jaintia Hills District Council. The young top leaders were arrested and put behind bars. The real motive of the government was to suppress and thereby extinguish the fire of freedom. Instead, it kindled the spirit of Shillong citizens which soon became contagious to the suburbs and spread like wildfire to the surrounding villages.
The demand for a separate hill state emanated for the first time from Wilson Reade, chairman of the Khasi National Durbar. Reade was the most non-controversial figure in the Khasi-Jaintia politics. But it was Capt Williamson Amphlang Sangma who speeded the movement. Sangma was a moderate by temperament, training and conviction. Being cool and thoughtful, ever aware of the consequences, he was always calculative.
The States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) under the chairmanship of Fazl Ali visited Shillong on October1955. A mammoth gathering was held on October 24, 1955 in which hill leaders expressed their desire for a separate hill state. The SRC was not in favour of smaller states citing economic inviability. Meanwhile, the SRC was busily occupied with the bigger happenings elsewhere in the other parts of the country on the subject they were entrusted. Madras Presidency and it turned into an ugly racial confrontation – between the highly educated Tamilians and the backward Telugus – in terms of population, both were more or less equally balanced. Ram Ullu, a Telugu activist, immolated himself in 1953, and his actions triggered increasing violence and bloodshed everywhere. Initially, the Central government succumbed to the bifurcation of the original state – Tamil nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Subsequently, Fazl Ali became the Governor of Assam.
The movement for a separate hill state was termed as a secessionist movement from hostile quarters. There were no doubt secessionists in Khasi – Jaintia Hills as in other places. But the tactics of the Assam government failed to dampen their spirit. On the contrary, its attitude added fuel to the fire.
Under the banner of Eastern India Tribal Union (EITU), a disciplined and vigorous struggle was waged. General election’s results of 1957 proved the overwhelmin support extended by the public towards the single point agenda of EITU. “WE WANT HILL STATE; NO HILL STATE, NO REST”, was the slogan which echoed and re-echoed throughout the hills and vales of the region.
To pacify the angry hill people, the chief minister Bishnuram Madhi was replaced by Binola Prasad Chaliha, a more accommodating personality. As a response, to the invitation of Chaliha for cooperation, at the initiative of Prime Minister Nehru, the EITU extended its gesture and for which Capt Sangma was awarded a Cabinet rank status in charge of Tribal Affairs and Larsing Khyriem of Jowai, a deputy Minister in 1958. The idea of a separate hill state for the tribals was, for the time being brushed aside under the carpet.
The complacency of the hill leaders was suddenly aroused by two historical events which culminated in the creation of Meghalaya. First, the emergence of Nagaland as a separate state and Shilu Ao made its first chief minister gave fresh hope to the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo leaders. Second, the declaration of Assamese by the chief minister as the official language of Assam in April 1960 at the behest of the Assam Sahitya Sabha and other institutions sounded a death knell to the integrity of the state. The Bengali-speaking community of the Barak Valley and the different tribal ethnics considered the act as an insult to them. The EITU withdrew its support to the Chaliha ministry. The Assamese press also condemned the unwise decision of Chaliha.
Immediate reaction from leaders of all the hills except Naga and Mikir Hills emanated as they met at Tura, Garo Hills on April 28, 1960 to vehemently oppose the decision of the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC). Meanwhile, the APCC hailed the decision of its chief minister which he stated on April 3 of the same year on the floor of the Assembly. In spite of protests by the minorities, the chief minister announced on June 23, 1960 that the official language bill would be introduced in the next session of Assembly. Misguided Chaliha overnight was transformed from a friend of the minorities especially tribals to that of an adversary.
Subsequently, the EITU of Hoover Hynniewta, the Khasi-Jaintia Conference of Late Rev JMM Nichols Roy, the Jaintia Durbar, the Garo National Union and many other splinter groups unanimously agreed to merge a single cohesive unit called the All Party Hill Leaders Conference (APHLC). The APHLC constituted a Council of Action, which submitted a memorandum to the President of India demanding for a separate hill state. To quell the disunity and to prevent conflict in the region, the Home Minister Govind Ballav Pant visited Shillong but his attempts proved futile.
The Official Language Bill was introduced in the Assam Legislative Assembly on October 18, 1960. Unanimous opposition to the Bill by all the hill people was anticipated except in the Mikir Hills and North Cachar Hills under its leaders Chatra Singh Teron and Jyotin Bhadra Hagjer respectively, both cabinet ministers in the Chaliha cabinet. A hartal was called in Shillong by the APHLC to protest against the government’s adamant action on October 24, 1960. The response from the public was a tremendous success. Later in the evening a public rally converged at the Fire Brigade Ground, Laitumkhrah in which top leaders addressed the gathering.
To commemorate the success of the action, the following year also witnessed the grand hartal and rally on October 24. But in 1962, the planned event was cancelled at the request of Central leaders due to the Chinese aggression which took place in the early part of October and at the same time, to express people’s solidarity with those of the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA now Arunachal Pradesh). Subsequently, October 24, became a regular annual event to remind the tribal people of the noble cause that everyone cherished.
Consequently, majority of the hill people from all walks of life lent full support to the APHLC. Initially, the Hill Congress was a partner of the APHLC. Later on, however, due to string pullings by the APCC, it had to retract its action and return to its parent fold. Nevertheless, as long as leaders did not go astray, the movement gained momentum and grew from strength to strength.
Seeing the unprecedented unity and determination of the Khasi-Jaintia and Garo people, the Union government offered the hill leaders various options – Pataskar Commission’s recommendation, Scottish Pattern, Nehru Pattern, Mehta Committee’s suggestions and others – to which the only response was a big “NO”. On the other hand, this emboldened our leaders to imitate the Gandhi precepts and ideals of non-violence. Hence the Non-Violent Direct Action (NVDA), a noble and unique concept was born, which reminds us of the saying of Walter Matthews: “What you are to be, or become, depend on the character of your resolutions”.
For those who are now in the winter of their life, it is quite rewarding and nostalgic if they rewind the historical event of Hill State Movement in their minds and in their hearts. Many have relinquished this earthly life for eternal life. Countless people from all categories of the society have contributed to the magnanimous idea and put their faith and confidence in the mission and vision of our leaders. They may be gone but the memory lingers on. One feels that, under such circumstances, to mention names is a venture to be avoided as far as possible. Why? Because within limited columns, one can not do justice since there is a huge number of such great personalities, men and women, worth recording. It is a fervent hope, therefore, that scholars in social science and history will take this issue as a challenge so that future generations will never forget. In this context, a statement of an unknown author is worth reproducing here: “For those who fought for it, freedom has a flavour the protected will never know”.
Nonetheless, one cannot refrain from placing on record here the list of elected members in 1972 to the Meghalaya Legialative Assembly, many of whom are no more:
Name of Constituency
Mynso Raliang (ST)
Name of elected member
Onwardleys Well Nongtdu
Stanlington David Khongwir
P Ripple Kyndiah
Dhruba Nath Joshi
Peter Garnett Marbaniang
Brighton Buhai Lyngdoh
D Dethwelson Lapang
Martin Narayan Majaw
Dr Radhon Singh Lyngdoh
Y Fuller Lyngdoh Mawnai
Francis K Mawlot
Kristo M Roy Marbaniang
Stanley DD Nichols Roy
S P Swer
Darwin D Pugh
Pleander Gare Momin
Miriam D Shira
Sibendra Narayan Koch
Medison A Sangma
William Cecil R Marak