By C.M. Paul
Darjeeling: A news item which appeared in The Shillong Times on December 11 intrigued me. It said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold meetings with religious leaders at Upper Shillong helipad before his departure to Delhi on December 16.
State BJP president Shibun Lyngdoh said December 10 that invitations will be sent to the religious leaders to interact with the Prime Minister.
He said after the arrival of the Prime Minister at Upper Shillong helipad from Mizoram at 1 pm, he will proceed to the State Convention Centre to dedicate the central project of Shillong-Nongstoin-Tura road to the nation.
Later, the Prime Minister will inaugurate the new BJP office at Bivar Road followed by his address for one hour at the BJP rally at Polo Grounds.
Later, he will leave for Delhi via Guwahati from Upper Shillong helipad.
On reading the report in which PM Modi will meet with Christian leaders in the last lap of his marathon visit to Meghalaya had brought some fresh flashbacks of another PM who visited Shillong some 40 years ago.
Bach then, I was a college student in Shillong.
The Prime Minster concerned was Morarji Desai who was greeted with black flags all along the road from the same Upper Shillong helipad to Raj Bhavan (Governor’s Palace) with thousands of people including school children lining up along the route. They were protesting against the nefarious Freedom of Religion Bill just then passed in 1978 in the then Union Territory of Arunachal Pradesh.
Back then, interfaith forum in Shillong was very united and active organizing rallies and protest marches and even a hartal (shut down) in Shillong against the draconian law of the Freedom of Religion Bill.
Bishops and priests, pastors and faithful even from remote villages flocked to Mulki Grounds for prayers and protest rallies under the able leadership of then Rector of Don Bosco Tech Shillong Father Thomas Menamparampil, now Archbishop Emeritus of Guwahati and Jowai.
“Moraji Desai was surprised and shocked to see the entire hillside route from Upper Shillong to Raj Bhavan lined up with people waving black flags against him and protesting,” recalled social activist and scripture scholar Fr Sylvanus Lyngdoh addressing his students.
During that visit of Desai no bishop or Christian leader was invited for the meeting in Raj Bhavan.
The only priest who attended the Press Meet in Raj Bhavan then and took on a ruling PM was late Fr Sylvanus Lyngdoh at the press conference in the Governor’s Palace in Shillong. He was there not as a “priest” but as editor of Ka Sur Shipara – a four-page tabloid format weekly newspaper in Khasi language.
Back then, Fr Lyngdoh made a prophetic warning as a social activist, and as a priest. He warned Deasai on the wrath of God for the imposition of the said bill which curtailed the freedom of people to practice and worship in the religion of their choice.
Today in spite of that notorious bill existing in Arunachal Pradesh, it remains toothless with Christian religion flourishing in two dioceses of the state- Ianagar and Miao.
The Modi “bhakt” (devotees) in Shillong might have recalled that embarrassing scenario on the road from helipad to Raj Bhavan and arranged the helipad (read secret) meeting with Christian leaders.D