As far as history is concerned, Nagas were exceptionally conscious and proud of their affluent traditions and distinctive identity as a people. The fact that they didn’t primarily function under a political umbrella does not undermine the evidence that they were a people who possessed similar values deeply ingrained in them and were austerely exercised in their way of life. History goes on to say that Nagas fiercely fought and defended their territories and their freedom against foreign intruders and powers who tried to dictate their way of life. It is why, when their freedom and existence as a people were threatened, they unequivocally asserted in the memorandum to the Simon Commission that Nagas were never subjected to any ruler in the past and that they wished to be left alone as they were in ancient times.
Many twists and turns have taken place since the Nagas made their desire known to the world through the memorandum to the Simon Commission in 1929. Let me briefly highlight some. NNC evolved into a full-fledged political institution under the leadership of AZ. Phizo. The Government of India (GoI) waged an overwhelming illegal war against the weaker Nagas in an attempt to uproot the Naga political campaign from its early stage. Statehood imposed – another suppressive move to undermine the rights of the Nagas. Naga political leaders went into exile to seek for political support from the international community. Then came the infamous Shillong Accord, the accord that not only shredded NNC into pieces, but created a political tsunami hurling Nagas against one another as pro and anti the accord until today. It further caused others to defect from NNC to form a socialist government – NSCN. A bloody civil war soon broke out from the defected group from the late 80s and through 1990s. Cease fire signed between GoI and NNPGs that led to the signing of Framework agreement between GoI and NSCN (IM) in 2015 . Today, Nagas ended up with nine different political groups actively functioning in Nagaland
Nagas have come a long way and along the way the contagious Naga political aspiration has become an integral part of every Naga who has come in contact with it whether one agrees or not. (Though they strongly detest and object to the behaviors of unruly underground cadres creating troubles and confusion in the name of freedom.) Relatively speaking, it is justifiable to say that the Naga people (Non political Nagas) have sacrificed and suffered not less than the political Nagas as they remain the main economic lifeline to the NPGs till today, while many endured the brunt of inhumane military atrocities from the hands of the Indian army and many more lost their lives. Therefore, it comes natural and beyond dispute for any patriotic Naga individual or organization, with or without approval from a higher authority, to promulgate the Naga political cause, its rightful desire to live as a free people, in any given capacity, situation or platform under the sun, period. Speaking of which, NSCN (IM), among the NPGs, considered as the more dominant force in the area of political advocacy and campaigns at home and abroad. In its latest political endeavor, the Framework Agreement (FA) has marked the culmination of years of tough political tussle with the GOI at the negotiating table.
The ceasefire signed between Government of India (GoI) and NSCN (IM) in 1997, in my personal opinion, was a historic achievement in the Indo-Naga political history. Because, as a result, it didn’t only stop the bloodshed, but also paved way for serious political dialogues to take place once again between the two peoples and even more so, it propelled the GoI to officially recognize the Naga Issue as a political issue which requires a political solution. It’s said that it took more than 80 rounds of talks between the two parties to be where they are today. It must have been easier said than done for GoI to compromise its stance on the issue held for decades. And the same must have been true for the Naga leaders as well to repose their trust and confidence on the GoI after many years of failed political dialogues. But as responsible people we must do the right thing, so thanks to GoI for being magnanimous in its effort and NSCN (IM) for its enduring patience and leadership in the ongoing political dialogues. Credit must be given where it’s due.
Prior to this, history is fit testimony to the fact that GoI, being the world’s largest democracy, had not been sincere in its dealing toward the Nagas in the past. It’s not that Indian past leaders lacked clear understanding of the Naga political uprising from the beginning, they knew exactly what the Nagas wanted. On the contrary, they deliberately tried to paint the Naga Issue in a bad light. Their arrogant statesmen like Nehru and Desai, etc. in the past, with the sole intention to subvert the will of the Nagas, did much damage to the relation between the two peoples and prolonged the issue to this day. Their greatest minds misread the whole situation and turned it into carnage. Ever since, the Naga issue has become a thorn in their side. But this thorn can be removed if the GoI dares to prove the Nagas wrong for good.
The aforementioned political dialogues have conceivably led to the signing of FA in 2015 which has provided ground-breaking opportunities to both parties to explore ways in finding a solution to the protracted issue on a reciprocal basis. What makes the FA become a contentious topic right away is the lack of transparency and accountability in the negotiating parties. It’s just outrageous to simply expect the people to remain bystanders of the unfairness taking place before their eyes and moreover assent to an agreement they have no sufficient knowledge about. While outsiders might be wondering on why the Nagas in Nagaland are making a big fuss over the FA, according to the document on PAN Naga Hoho recently published in the local dailies, if it were to come to fruition it could cause heartbreaking effects especially on the Nagas outside Nagaland. The reactions of neighboring states will definitely put such a system to the test.
While it’s a very rare opportunity in time for both the parties to make a difference where they can go down as shining stars in the history of the Naga nation, the challenges that come along with it pose clear and present danger if not treated with chariness. At the same time, they should constantly bear in mind that a small error could spark catastrophic consequences as one small leakage will sink the ship. If they were to learn from the past mistakes, they can avert history from repeating itself at this critical time in history. Nevertheless, the above do not automatically make neither of them become the master of the ship to willfully maneuver its course ahead. The stakes are tragically too high to allow any room for any such premeditated move.
To put it in plain language, the foreseeable problem is, if any political entity, in an attempt to bring a political solution to the Naga Issue, no matter how well intended, claims itself as the legit standard-bearer and hence deliberately imposing its political system and ideology onto the people as the fundamental role in the society will naturally translate into anti Naga, unchristian, dictatorial, and treacherous at any given time. Nagas in the past fought off foreign invaders who tried to impose their way of life on them, they will not hesitate to defy such forces, foreign or domestic, in similar fashion if compelled to. The writing on the wall has never been clearer that any political solution outside the consensus of the people will lead to undesired outcomes, and the present day (political Nagas) as well as the GoI cannot effort to cause another bloodbath as history clearly has taught us. Yet, the recent official invitation extended to the six NNPGs by R.N Ravi is a much-welcomed gesture on the part of the GoI that has settled a lot of agonizing thoughts and speculations on the issue at the moment. The same is eagerly expected to happen among the Naga political groups. Certainly, the people are keeping fingers crossed.
These are critical times and especially the political Nagas must be pragmatic in their dealing rather than irresponsibly going after the people who try to voice their concerns to the public. No Naga in their right mind wants to relive the horrors of the civil war that has resulted in the death of thousands let alone instigates another. It’d be fitting to point out the recent beef between the NSCN (IM) and some Naga social leaders and individuals for instance. Though I don’t personally endorse many words that transpired from the disputation, for once I thought it was healthy as long as they can knock sense to one another with ink on papers and to the extent that it allows the public to judge for themselves who’s knocking more sense into the other’s head. However, haranguing at the people and labeling those who exercise their freedom of speech as ‘anti national’ will only widen the already existing chasm between the people and the political Nagas. An isolated NPG will cease to become relevant. A dejected people will not help at all.
Therefore, the greater appeal is placed on the NPGs to realize the gravity of the situation, to reason together, to listen to the voices of the people and place the people’s interest above all else. The people are not the enemies! Can a government exist without its people? The situation demands the best critical minds of the time to help shape the best possible outcome and that must be people oriented and that which serves the interests of the people completely. Any solution that uses violence as a means of leverage or goes against the norms of democracy is not acceptable nor honorable in the free world. Can the people trust the current Naga national leaders Nagas to bring about a solution as mentioned above? Win the people and Nagas will have their freedom at last. It all began with the Naga plebiscite in 1951 and it will conclude on the same altar.
Certainly, Nagas can no longer let the darkness of the past overshadow the light into their path ahead. They can start to change their world right away. They might not conquer nations, but they can change their attitude with humble hearts. Let Nagas genuinely place their faith in God, refuse evils in peaceful ways, be undeterred by adversity and suffering, and strive ahead in pursuit of their goals with great zest until they are accomplished. Godspeed. KUKNALIM.