A royal salute to Rishang Keishing

Free Thinker *

Floral Tribute to  Rishang Keishing at his home (Mantripukhri) :: 23rd August 2017
Floral Tribute to Rishang Keishing at Mantripukhri on 23rd August 2017 :: Pix - Lamdamba Oinam

I have a very bad habit of wasting time by watching news for one/two hours every evening with a can (liquid) in my hand till my honourable wife yells at me for dinner. In the evening of 22 August ,2017 I was hit by a news from a local channel reporting that 'Rishang Keishing the grand old man of Manipur Politics has just passed away at RIMS at around 8 pm' .

I requested my wife and children to carry on with their grub and I skipped my dinner that night. What a great man? What a great political inning? What a brisk long life? I kept pondering the whole night.

A village boy from Bungpa, Ukhrul got a BA Degree from Calcutta, got a teaching job and became a Headmaster. Nobody knew that one day Rishang, the boy from Bungpa village will be a Member of Parliament and later Chief Minister of Manipur. Nobody could imagine that one day he would be dinning with Nehru & Indira and must later with Manmohan & Sonia. What a long drive! He missed a century by a whisker.

One BBC correspondent reported an incident of 1952 in Connaught Place, Delhi, in which Rishang Keishing was arrested by police when he was riding a bicycle. He was arrested because he had violated the one way traffic rule . As a matter of fact he was not aware of such a traffic rule.

He was released with an innocuous warning after realizing the fact that he was a sitting Member of Parliament. Mr. Keishing confirmed that this incident actually took place. It is indeed amusing to learn the fact that there was one way traffic system in Connaught Place as early as 1952.

In 2014, when he was about to retire as Member from Rajya Sabha the Guinness Book of World Records recorded that "at the age of 94 Rishang Keishing is the oldest active politician of the world ."I had the privilege to interact with him more often when he became an octogenarian and later.

Mr. Rishang Keishing had been in active politics for more than 60 years; he had been Chief Minister of Manipur, Lok Sabha Member and Rajya Sabha Member and he was also a freedom fighter . He became emotional recalling his first stint as Member of Parliament in 1952, when there was no one from Manipur to help him or guide him.

While discussing about the ethnic groups of Manipur he asked me 'do you know how many ethnic groups we have in the State?' I said 30. He shot back, "it is 34 now". He informed me that the Adim Jati hostel which was built by him at Imphal was meant for all the ethnic groups. No doubt he was also a good teacher and he knew how to teach. He impressed upon us that nothing is more important than good-education, peace and development.

Mr. Keishing entered Parliament in the first Lok Sabha as an MP on Socialist Party ticket. That time the Socialists had 12 seats in Lok Sabha. He had a pretty long association with prominent Socialist leaders in the 50s. He confided that Pandit Nehru brought him to the Congress fold in 1964. After joining Congress when he came to Imphal the then Congress leaders of the state didn't want to welcome him ; because he had been criticizing the Congress and Congress government for more than a decade or so. Finally they accepted him perhaps because of Panditji’s pressure.

With a smile he recalled the day when he was left alone in the State Assembly as all other Congress MLAs joined the Janta Party. Everyone insisted him to come along with them but he firmly stuck with the Congress. His experience, knowledge and wisdom are well acknowledged by everyone across the political spectrum.

My uncle who is now 85, is a diehard Communist .He told me frankly that, "Oja Rishang was one the best administrators (CM) we ever had ; unfortunately he could not have a stable government for long due to defections and erratic loyalties".

It is learnt from his family members that Mr. Keishing always preferred boiled ( plain) food to fried and spicy food, and he ate a little. He loved to dress up in a simple way and his attires were never expensive. He had been following a much disciplined life-style from the very beginning. He believed in simple living and high thinking.

Mr. Keishing was slightly late for a Committee meeting in Parliament, when he entered the Committee Room the meeting was about to start ; as soon as he entered everybody including the Chairman of the Committee stood up to welcome him. What an honor? This is the respect he commanded in the political circle. He was a man of few words; his speeches were short and to the point. The points he made were taken seriously by those who mattered.

When Mr. Rishang sought an appointment with Prithiviraj Chauhan the then Union Minister, the Minister himself responded, “Sir where should I come". This was the respect he commanded. I was told that when Advani met him in the Central Hall of Parliament, they had a long chat standing and all the VIPs around were watching them eagerly.

Sonia Gandhi never denied any appointment with Rishang Keishing. That was the status he enjoyed. However he had to wait for 2/3 hours to see the then Chief Minister of Manipur. Perhaps that was an aberration but he didn't mind.

When Khuswant Singh passed away , his son Victor conveyed the sad news to Rishang. The response was a masterstroke reply, "he is quite old and he has done everything in life and it is time to go". In fact Khuswant Singh was slightly senior to him.

He was a Tangkhul by birth, a Socialist at heart, a Congressman by affiliation, a cool headed politician, a gentleman by nature, worked for the people, believed in peace & unity among the people, committed to democracy and non-violence. And he was a teetotaler too. We shall be missing him , the great gun of politics. We bow to Sir Rishang Keishing, a great son of Manipur.

A few years back, in a social gathering, at his lawn when he was sitting with his loving wife I asked him in a lighter vein "Sir, yours was a love or an arranged marriage?" He had a hearty laugh and said nostalgically, "it was both".

* Free Thinker wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on August 31, 2017.

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