GUWAHATI: With the demise of Padma Shree award winning Gandhian and social activist Natwar Thakkar also known as Nagaland’s Gandhi, northeast India has lost one of the stalwarts.

Thakkar, who arrived in Nagaland in 1955 as a 23 year old decided to stay on and spread the teachings of Gandhi, breathed his last at the age of 86 at a private hospital after suffering from kidney-related ailments.

“I'm saddened to hear about the demise of Padma Shree Natwar Thakkar, founder of Nagaland Gandhi Ashram. He made significant contributions towards the betterment of society. May Almighty give strength to his family, friends and loved ones and may his soul rest in peace,” said Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio.

He is survived by his wife, Lentina Ao, two daughters and a son. “Late Natwar Thakkar was a personal friend of mine and I had a long period of association with him. I had visited his Ashram in the year 1965 during my maiden visit to the North East after the disastrous Chinese aggression in 1962. His demise is a personal loss to me,” said Nagaland Governor PB Acharya.

In 1955 Thakkar set up Nagaland Gandhi Ashram at Chuchuyimlang village in Mokokchung district when he was just 23.

Recalling the early days of the Gandhian, Guwahati based senior journalist Nava Thakuria said that Natwar Thakkar underwent a very difficult phase when he initially arrived in Nagaland in the mid 1950s from Maharashtra.

“Initially, he was not welcomed as many doubted him and thought he was a spy. He could have gone back and led a comfortable life, But he was a true Gandhian and decided to face all the obstacles and stay back. Thakkar’s work in Nagaland includes vocational training for school dropouts and physically handicapped, primary schools in villages, medical centres and libraries. He helped people earn a livelihood by engaging in apiculture and jaggery-making and by setting up oil mills, biogas plants, mechanised carpentry shops and khadi sales counters,” said Thakuria, who is also the secretary of Guwahati Press Club.

Thakuria also said that Thakkar has been to Guwahati Press Club on several occasions and interacted with journalists.

Thakkar married a local girl, Lentina Ao, who soon started helping him in his mission. She was also honoured with the Padma Shri for her social work.

Thakuria said that Thakkar donated most of his prize awards for the welfare of the villages.

Not just in Nagaland, Thakkar’s work has also inspired people in the neighbouring states.

Miguel Das Queah, a child-rights activist and founder of UTSAH which works for child rights based in Guwahati remembered him as a mentor. “I’ve lost a mentor, an elder brother and a dear friend. Natwar Bhai was always a call away. His words of wisdom helped me overcome some of the greatest challenges, in those initial, struggling years of UTSAH. As one of its first advisors, Natwar Bhai has played a crucial role in making UTSAH, what it is today. I will miss you, dearly,” said Queah.