By Mr Chris Evans
FEATURE | July 09, 2019:
This article is a recollection of Mr Chris Evans of Moral Re-Armament (MRA) while he was in Shillong as a young man to bear witness to the “historic event” during the inauguration of Meghalaya as a semi-independent state in 1970.
In Mr Evans’ words: My 48-year-old memory
I visited Meghalaya in March and April 1970 in my gap year, nineteen years old and straight from a farm in the West of England. Arriving in Gauhati by train from Delhi, I remember the bus straining up the road to Shillong as the scenery and vegetation changed before my eyes.
I was part of the travelling cast of a musical revue from Europe called “Anything to Declare”, an initiative of Moral Re-Armament (or Initiatives of Change as it is now known). There were 70 of us, young Europeans who wanted to say that our continent had something of value for the world. We imagined ourselves reaching the boundary of Europe, and being asked at the customs barrier, “Do you have anything to declare as you enter the rest of the world?” The revue was our answer.
To our great surprise and delight we were invited to Assam and Meghalaya by a stellar group of leaders, as per the letter of invitation below.
Few of them had seen our show, but they knew the value of the work being done in the region by Moral Re-Armament.
We arrived in Shillong, and were offered accommodation in homes and guest houses all over the city. I stayed at the Sericulture Silk Farm. I wonder if it is still there….? And we put on our show for the public of Shillong, meeting many of them after the curtain fell each night.
I think we received far more than we were able to give. Not only did we have the privilege to witness the inauguration of Meghalaya as a semi-independent state, as part of a huge crowd addressed by Mrs Indira Gandhi; we also learned direct from key actors some of the background to how the agreement to form the new state came about.
In particular, Stanley Nichols-Roy (who became Minister for Industry in the new cabinet), and his wife, Helen, were most generous in giving us their time. They told us very candidly how Stanley had decided to mend some fences with Helen, and that, encouraged by this experience, he had reached out to a political adversary, B P Chalihah, Chief Minister of Assam. Of course he could not tell us what they talked about, but he did say that in conversation he had apologised to Chalihah, not for his political stance but for his personal antagonism, and that trust had started to grow between them where there had been none before.
The causes of such a settlement, when violence had been widely expected, were no doubt many and complex. But everyone, including Mrs Gandhi was talking about the unusual level of trust that characterised the negotiations.
We felt we had not only witnessed one of the unequivocally good news stories of 1970, but that we had been given a privileged insight into how it had come about. It made a great impression on many of us, and in my case has affected everything I have tried to do since.
It may be mentioned that Meghalaya Chief Minister, Conrad K Sangma recently met Mr Evans during his visit to Switzerland to attend the Caux Forum.