Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, has been outraged by the Nehru-Gandhi family. He has invoked ‘historic injustices’ that the family piled on the people of India, leaving them with, according to Modi, little development, umpteen poverty and a deficit in democracy. What have they done in 55 years of rule, asked the Prime Minister during his election duty in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. He concluded that the Congress Party cannot be trusted for the ‘false promises’ they allegedly made.
Surely no one should have to bear the burden of social, economic and political injustices however old they may be. In that breath, Modi should also call for the dismantling of the caste structure, make upper castes apologize for historic injustices and set up more rigid structures of caste upliftment than already in place.
And, in the same breath, one must recall the injustices that the Government of India, the Government of Manipur, the Government of Assam and the Government of Arunachal Pradesh have doled out to the hills.
As children, we may or may not remember our pleasant memories, but we certainly remember acts of violence perpetrated on us. Many of those Naga people who had seen their parents tortured by the Indian security forces, or their neighbours burned and mutilated, find it difficult to forget these past injustices that have been quietly brushed under the ceasefire carpet. But memory is not easily discarded by a sweep. It lingers, haunts, informs, intimidates and affects every decision we make as adults. Just like Narendra Modi is severely affected by the injustices he seems to have encountered during Congress rule, the Naga people are affected by the injustices they have witnessed both in private and public life under Indian rule. The Indian Prime Minister has now been able to articulate that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
This is a golden opportunity to correct the wrongs inflicted on the Naga people. First, the Prime Minister of India should speed up and bring closure to the Indo-Naga peace process, as promised by his government. Second, whether a political solution or not, the Government of India owes apology to the Naga people. It is time to seek this apology. Third, there should be a withdrawal of military laws that continue to govern the region to instil the true spirit of democratic cooperation. This can be greatly facilitated by the first.
Most of all, the Government of India, if it is serious about its peace process with the Nagas, must control the tendencies in neighbouring state governments to subvert the Naga people. The Arunachal Pradesh government, for instance, has declassified Naga ‘tribes,’ recognizing each tribe separately in a clear bid to remove the Naga ‘identity’ from the state. In Manipur, the government is close to passing the Manipur Peoples Bill that will take away rights guaranteed to the indigenous people of the hills through the Constitution of India. In Assam, Nagas continue to be divested of political representation guaranteed to them in the autonomous district councils.
Such moves piled on historic injustices only make matters worse when India attempts to ‘act east.’ If the Prime Minister is serious about correcting historic mistakes, these must become his priorities so that he moves beyond politicking to show that he is not what the Congress is made of.
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