Nearly two centuries after they helped the Duke of Wellington defeat Napoleon Bonaparte’s army, two cannons have landed in another battle – between Mizoram and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) via Assam Rifles (AR).
A group of retired administrative officers heading the Mizoram unit of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) want AR to return the cannons that adorned the paramilitary force’s Quarterguard here.
The 1st Battalion of AR (1AR), custodians of the cannons, had taken them to Tuensang in Nagaland where it was shifted to in 2003. No one apparently missed the missing cannons until INTACH’s local unit members “felt the loss” in April last year.
Through INTACH member secretary Yogendra Narain, the Mizoram chapter apprised MHA of how Aizawl was robbed of its heritage cannons. But the latter has gone with AR’s argument: “The cannons are war trophies that passed from the British Indian Army to 1AR.”
Aizawl’s elites disagree. “The cannons were installed by Lt Col J Shakespear in 1892. Though he was an army officer, he was the civilian head of North Lushai Hills district (part of present-day Mizoram) created in 1898,” INTACH’s local convenor and former Delimitation Commission member P Rohmingthanga told Hindustan Times.
Shakespear, in his 1939 book The Making of Aijal, wrote that the cannons were fired at Waterloo. Later, they were part of the armament of a Burma-bound ship of war that docked in Chittagong (Bangladesh) in 1857. When the detachment of the 34th Native Infantry stationed in Chittagong mutinied on November 18, the guns were thrown overboard to prevent their falling in the hands of mutineers. These were later fished out and brought to Aizawl.
“Anything installed by the civilian head of a district cannot logically belong to the armed forces – certainly not by the AR, which came into existence only in 1917,” Rohmingthanga said.
“The AR has been in existence since 1835, albeit by other names, but we don’t want to get into any argument on anything that belongs to us,” said Major Rajat M Bhatt. “It’s up to the MHA to decide.”
As of now, the MHA is pretty certain the cannons are AR’s. “As per the service norms, the war trophies are held by the respective units and form an integral part of the Battalion history and legacy. These are kept with honour and pride by the Assam Rifles and it is proposed to shift them later to the Assam Rifles Museum,” said its note dated June 9, 2009.
The museum is in AR headquarters on the outskirts of Meghalaya capital Shillong.
But INTACH’s local chapter is in no mood to call it quits. “Let the AR continue to have the cannons, but in Aizawl,” Rohmingthanga said.