Mr India: Speaking Truth to Power

29 June 2016
Mr India, Daniel Langthasa performing at a concert in Chattarpur.
Akash Sangma
Mr India, Daniel Langthasa performing at a concert in Chattarpur.
Akash Sangma

On 10 June 2016, at about 10.30 pm, Daniel Langthasa, a 33-year-old musician belonging to a band called Digital Suicide, posted a status on his Facebook profile. “So I hear that my father’s murderer will now become the Chief Executive Member of my district. Thank you Mr. Himanta Biswa Sharma ... And thank you BJP,” Daniel wrote. “Wondering if it’s time for me to put down my guitar and pick up a gun instead?”

Langthasa was referring to the election of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Debolal Gorlosa, also known as Daniel Dimasa—the former deputy commander-in-chief of the Assam and Nagaland based extremist group, Dima Halam Daogah (Jewel), or DHD(J), also known as the Black Widow—as the twenty-third chief executive member, or CEM, of the North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council (NCHAC) on 11 June. The 30-member NCHAC controls the administration of Dima Hasao—formerly North Cachar Hills—an autonomous district in Assam. The council is based in the district headquarters, Haflong, which is also Daniel’s hometown.

Daniel began performing in 2006, with a band called Ahimsa. At the time, he was studying at Assam Engineering College in Guwahati. In his final year in college, Daniel skipped his exams in order to play at the Hornbill festival in Nagaland. He never finished his degree. In 2008, he formed Digital Suicide, and began to write what he calls “protest music.” “It was a band, so the song-writing process was collaborative, and our musical influences were mostly Western,” Daniel said. Things began to change when he returned to Haflong, in 2015. He wanted to keep things “simple and spontaneous,” and began recording songs in Hindi, on his acoustic guitar. “More than anything else, I just wanted to talk to the people of Haflong about things that mattered to us, and in our own language,” he said. “I did not care whether the rest of the world would listen.”

The DHD(J) was formed in the early 2000s under the leadership of Mihir Barman, who goes by the alias Jewel Gorlosa. Since the mid 1990s, Barman was a key leader of the DHD, an insurgent outfit in pursuit of a separate state for the Dimasa tribe, the residents of Dima Hasao. When the DHD decided to surrender and negotiate with the central government, Barman, along with Dimasa, formed the breakaway faction, the DHD (J). According to Daniel, the two “Gorlosas”—Barman and Dimasa—as well as another former DHD(J) leader, Niranjan Hojai—all currently members of the NCHAC—were behind an operation that led to the death of his father, Nindu Langthasa, on 4 June 2007.

At the time of his death, Nindu was a member of the autonomous council (MAC) representing the Congress party, and was accompanying the then CEM, Purnendu Langthasa, in campaigning for the impending elections on 7 June 2007. The main target of the DHD(J) was the CEM, who was also the eldest son of Congress leader Govind Chandra Langthasa, and who Daniel claimed was a distant relative. The two Congress members were shot that afternoon in a remote village near Haflong.

Ishan Marvel is a reporter at Vantage, The Caravan.

Keywords: music Indian politics the Northeast