The bizarre story behind the ‘demolition’ of the Naga Club

The legendary Naga Club was revived after a century. Then its new members demolished its office in the dead of the night.

The office of the iconic century-old Naga Club, which was “revived” in 2017, was vandalised and partly demolished on May 27. The destruction of the colonial-era heritage building — located in the heart of Nagaland’s capital Kohima — led to widespread condemnation and the constitution of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the matter. Three people were promptly arrested.

Only for it to later turn out that the members who revived the club were behind the midnight demolition operation – because they could not get the incumbent occupants to move out. But this is no ordinary civil dispute. Linked to it is the claim to the legacy of the Naga Club, known to have planted the first seeds of Naga nationalism.

The Naga Club 1918: the ground for Naga nationalism

Often described as the first Naga organisation with representation from all the sub-tribes of the community, the Naga Club was formed in 1918 with the objective to “unite all Nagas”.

The accounts of its genesis vary. Some say the club was formed when a group of men from different Naga sub-tribes — part of the Labour Corps during World War I — returned home from France. They felt the need for a common platform to “unite” different Naga tribes and thus, formed the Naga Club. Yet others say that it was formed by the staff of the British Deputy Commissioner in Kohima to provide free accommodation for Nagas who came from remote areas.

Either way, the consensus is that the Naga Club paved the path for the Naga struggle for self-determination. This is rooted in an incident in 1929, when the Simon Commission was visiting India. The club members submitted a memorandum to the Commission, asking them to leave the Nagas out of the “reformed scheme of administration” that the British were planning to introduce for India.

Many describe this request to “leave the Nagas alone” as the first recorded articulation of Naga political aspirations on which stands the Naga quest for self-determination. In the 1950s, the Naga National Council, founded by the legendary Angami Z Phizo, gave Naga nationalism a more defined objective: a sovereign homeland. An armed struggle — independent India’s longest running insurgency — ensued. Several Naga groups are currently in talks with the Union government, but resolution remains elusive.

This article was originally published in The Indian Express in June 2023. Full article here.