“The Naga youth needs to take a decisive stand on the question of peace and dialogue, reconciliation and healing, governance, and accountability, development and growth and all aspects of building the Naga future,” articulated the Naga Students’ Federation (NSF) on choosing ‘For A Just Future’ as the theme for its recently concluded 28th General Conference in Bhandari Town.
It was, one supposed, a natural progression, from the Federation’s 27th Conference theme, ‘Amelioration’ at Tsürangkong Valley in 2017, signifying ‘mending, betterment, enhancement, amendment, repair, and patching up,’ among others.
Writing a brief conceptual note, on the theme, Prof Xavier Pfokrehe, then, noted that Naga Society is ridden with “types of corruption and decadence today” stating that numerous civil societies, including NSF, and various Naga Political Groups and politicians need to be ameliorated. For this, self-criticism is sin qua non, he added.
An NSF official also noted that the theme was chosen “keeping in mind the need for progress and refinement in Naga society following the various social breakdowns and divisions in Naga society” and the need for the Federation to act as an “intellectual group to bring new changes and build the society together.”
It also resonated with the NSF’s Preamble (adopted on April 22, 1973) aspiring to “ameliorate social and moral activities while safeguarding common interest, integrity and fraternity among all Nagas.” In doing so, it resolved to cultivate and preserve ‘culture, customs and traditional heritage” and strive for the common interest of Nagas –whether political or social “irrespective of tribes or divisive forces.”
Since its inception on October 28, 1947, NSF has been fore front in giving ‘priority to students’ welfare’ and other issues. But self-admittedly, over the years against the background of the protracted Indo-Naga political issue, some of its actions, or lack of it, have been under intense public scrutiny.
Taking ‘For A Just Future,’ as the way forward after the ‘Amelioration,’ it is pertinent, therefore, to examine whether the amelioration was reflected during the intervening period in order to move into the future.
To achieve the goal and to ensure that, as the theme speaker Rev Dr Ellen Konyak Jamir succinctly reflected, every individual “develop in accordance to their self- worth and to the building of the Naga nation,” the NSF needs to stand up “as an independent, inclusive voice.” Most importantly, take up “initiatives that interest and benefit the youth – engaging with the younger generations, tackling big as well as small issues,” not selective activism.
This is pivotal if NSF has to achieve its stand for a future “where equality, solidarity, justice, compassion and dignity are in harmony with each other” through rectification, as well as recapturing the unanimous respect it once commanded. For it would be a tragedy of epic proportion, if the respect for once most vibrant and oldest youth organisation in the region, is given ‘by default’ through association, and not earned.
Ironically, despite the stated objectives, two main ingredients for ensuring a ‘just future’ were missing in the present set-up -the lack of women’s leadership and absence of vital mechanism to directly engage with the public in general, and students’ community, in particular.
Looking back two decades since 2011-13 to 2019-21 tenure, the participation of women in leadership role has been negligible at best. There was a pleasant aberration in 2013-15, when the 25th General Conference for the first time in the history of NSF, elected a female general secretary. Unfortunately, it remained, as stated earlier, an aberration and the original trajectories continue.
The anomalies, though, is not entirely its fault. The Federating units, as well as other dynamics, are at play ultimately deciding the candidature, conducted by an election commission before each conference. A collective effort is needed to rectify the current state of affairs.
The second is the lack of direct communication with the public and students’ community. An old supposedly NSF’s website is inactive, while it has no presence in social media platforms, a fundamental outreach mechanism.
Does the presence in social media and other digital platforms trivialise the Federation’s vision and actions? The answer is an unequivocal no. Rather, it makes the NSF open, accountable, accessible and not afraid of public scrutiny. To achieve its desired objectives and communicate its principles effectively, it is imperative that the Federation make use of such platforms. It would not only bridge the gap but also trust deficits between the NSF and the concerned entities, it is purportedly serving.
The piece is not an assessment of the past or current leadership, but rather a wake-up call, for the newly elected executives as well as the federating units, to rectify as they embark on a journey for a ‘just future.’