“Naga Day” on January 10: A response

Charles Chasie

 

The proposal of the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR), with the support of all the Naga tribe Hohos and other bodies, to declare January 10 as “Naga Day”, in remembrance and commemoration of January 10, 1929, the day the Naga Club submitted a memorandum to the Simon Commission in the name and on behalf of the Naga people, is a decision that deserves the attention of all Nagas and particularly those living in Nagaland. This is a case of looking backwards to history to take guidance for the future.

 

In most ways, the proposers of this “Naga Day” are doing the only thing they can do at this time of crisis and uncertainty, full of dangers, particularly of factional fights and fratricidal killings, more so because there is the possibility of another attempt at settling the Naga Issue being made without adequate aforethought about its consequences or prompted by group interest. When you don’t know what to do, the only thing you can do is to go back to where everything started and re-examine it objectively if you want to give yourself a fair chance to do things right! In so doing many factors may arise which could deviate or affect objective decisions but still, this may be the best or even the only way!

 

According to the FNR, the observance of this Naga Day on January 10 is to stress that Nagas are ONE and that it is important for them to have peaceful internal co-existence as well as maintain mutual respect with neighbours. The proposal seems very sound on the surface given that Nagas have not only managed to become so divided but also managed to surround themselves with unfriendly neighbours, some of whom seem prepared to turn aggressively against them at the slightest excuse.

 

In the Naga situation today, there are so many factions who are at logger heads and seem prepared to re-start fratricidal war if they are given sufficient provocation. The “cement “of Nagahood has become so watered-down. Have Naga feelings become so weak that we cannot remain a people any longer? During the early British Colonial period different Naga villages, instead of fighting Colonialism, used to ask the help of the British to defeat their Naga enemy villages! Today, the same is happening although the Indians have replaced the British! Here, history is repeating itself. What is this death-wish (?) that the Nagas seem to have?

 

Certainly, in the given situation, the best thing the Nagas can do is to pause and think back as to why and how the Naga National Movement started in the first place? Was it wrong? If so why? Was it right? If so, how do we make it work in the best interest of our people in today’s given situation? Although this entails every Naga, it is the Naga nationalist Political Groups (NPGs) who should be doing the utmost to unite all Nagas, starting with themselves. But what do we find? They have become the greatest stumbling blocks! Their refusal to come together, their readiness to fight and kill each other, the way they trouble the Naga civil society at large etc. are well known. As a result, instead of gaining the respect of their people, they have been collecting ire and scorn in many instances. Are they for the people; or are the Naga people their chattel to be exploited in their attempts to march to power?! This is something that has to become clear. There is no room for ambiguity whether it is the Nationalist groups or the State political party groups.

 

Simon Commission
A few words on the Memorandum and what this was all about. On 26th November, 1927, the Sir John Simon Commission, consisting of 7 British members of parliament, including Clement Atlee himself, was announced. The Commission or Committee’s job was “to examine the Indian constitutional problems and to provide recommendations for reform”. In February 1928, the Commission arrived in India. The Indian leaders, both Congress and the Muslim League protested because there were no Indian members in the Commission. Nevertheless, the Commission carried on its work despite protests. When the Commission members came to Kohima, the representatives of the Naga Club, on behalf of the Naga people submitted their memorandum to the Commission on January 10, 1929.

 

The memorandum, signed by 20 signatories of the Naga Club, was a very simple letter. Since the Commission came to Kohima, the then headquarters of the Naga Hills, it is not surprising that the majority of the signatories were Angamis and Chakhesangs (who were earlier called Eastern Angamis). There was also representation from tribes like the Sema, Lotha, Rengma, Zeliang and Kuki tribes although all tribes were not represented. Whatever the case, the signatories, feeling the weight of the responsibility of history on their shoulders (all the educated, wealthy and influential Nagas were members of the Naga Club) submitted the Memorandum on behalf of the Naga people. And, till date, all Nagas have accepted and owned the Memorandum they submitted.

 

The outcome of the Naga Club’s memorandum to the Simon Commission was that the Naga people were left out of the Reformed Scheme of India through the Government of India Act, 1935. The Simon Commission report has sometimes been termed as the last and longest Constitution of India which lasted till 1947 when the British handed over power to the new Indian Government.

 

The Memorandum
This Memorandum is fascinating. It is actually only a short letter, very simple, and it said everything that needed to be said and nothing extra! The Memorandum simply said who the Nagas were and why the signatories were writing to the Commission. There was a brief historical explanation, the reasons why they were writing with a little explanation of the ground situation as the signatories saw at the time and their demand either to keep the Nagas out of the Reformed Scheme of India and directly under the British or to leave the Nagas as they were before the British arrived. This was typical traditional Naga diplomatic negotiation: complete focus on their objective and boxing in the “adversary” of the moment without giving offence or denigrating anyone! There was dignity.

 

The Naga memorandum to the Simon Commission did two very important things for the Nagas: (i) This was the first official document that said Nagas were a people, separate and distinct and (ii) The Nagas were not Indians and had no desire to be part of India. They preferred to be under the British or, perhaps more preferably, “to leave us alone to determine for ourselves as in ancient times”.

 

Today, the world of the Nagas has changed so much. Many of the younger generations don’t even know the history of their people – many don’t even know their own clan and family history anymore. In the era of information technology some may be very well versed in what electronics and its technology may dole out but outside of that they are becoming less and less capable. Speciality is becoming a goal but outside of their area of specialization, they are becoming much less prepared for life and living. The British introduced money and used it to drive the first nail in the Naga cultural coffin. The Indian Government learnt this very well and has used it in all spheres, managing to transform a traditional people rooted in their cultural values into a rootless and floating people! Today’s Naga can no longer survive without money but the purse string is controlled by Delhi as it wants. Nagas like to call each other “puppets” but, in truth, all have been remote controlled by the Puppeteer! Kautilya/Chanakya would be proud.

 

And, now, when the possibility of a political settlement of the Naga Issue approaches us again, how will all Naga groups, puppet or not, respond? It would appear that the NSCN-IM would not mind inking an agreement with the Government of India on its own — indeed, this has been their attitude from the beginning and a main difficulty for unity of all NPGs. This has been a real worry for the vast majority of Nagas as a settlement with only one group may result in another bout of violence and fratricidal killings. Thankfully, Government of India has now started talks with the other NPGs. The scope for a peaceful settlement that may be more acceptable to all has been enlarged as a result.

 

At such a momentous time, it is right for the Nagas to look back and reflect on what had started their political journey and examine the seeds of action sown towards building their peoplehood. The proposed “Naga Day” has all the right elements to do this and the idea deserves the total support of all the Nagas – non- Nagas too!