Colours of Naga Struggle and the World

NP Ariiphre-ou

Nagas Non-violent approach responded with military option
The Naga resistance against forceful occupation by the newly Independent state India and Burma were implemented in a non-violent and non-cooperation movement, such as withdrawal from Indian-run schools, non-payment of taxes, resignation from official responsibility and boycotting imposed election. In 1953, the mass ‘walk out’ from the Kohima Public ground boycotting the speeches of Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Burmese Primer Unu. At this time the Indian officials refused to allow Nagas to articulate their position which further worsened the situation. Professor J.H. Hutton’s letter to the Assam Tribune in 1966 stated,  (and) the refusal to allow the Nagas in Kohima to express their views and state their case to the Prime Minister of India when Pandit Nehru came to Kohima, made real trouble inevitable. Thereafter the attempt to bring Naga tribes to heel by bringing in the Indian Army made matters infinitely worse.

The arrest warrant against the Naga leaders and the killings of some public personalities by the Indian Army pushed the Naga movement underground. “Sir Charles Pawsey has aptly said that trying to deal with the Underground by means of a mechanized army is like using an elephant to hunt a mouse .” This action led to the formation of Naga Home Guards which later became the ‘Naga Army’ to defend their right to life and dignity when non-violent options were negated and made impossible. 

The Naga struggle has gone through various phases of military responses from the Indian state. The Indian state through its national army waged an all out conventional warfare on the Nagas beginning in the late 1950’s extending to the late 1960’s. During this time the Naga homeland was ravaged and the serious crimes committed against humanity have yet to be investigated. Following this period, the Indian army led a more coordinated and low intensity warfare strategy in the form of counter-insurgency operations which was implemented in the early 1970’s through the 1990’s. With the coming of the mid 1990’s the Indian state has transform it into a higher and more sophisticated form of  “psychological warfare” using all forms of enticement including people friendly terms such as “Operation Good Samaritan” to “win the hearts and minds” of the people. “The bitterness which has been engendered by army occupation is perhaps one of the major obstacles in obtaining a settlement” as mentioned by Hutton in 1966, still holds relevance even today one half a century later.

In attempt to remove its negative image, the Indian state has coined new terms with a more positive images that give them an accessible face such as ‘Sathi Laga Force’ (friendly force). Implementation of these new images was through its Army Developmental Groups (ADG) – now known as Military Civic Action – programs and Army civic programs. These programs were designed specifically to break the Naga’s will, at the same time the Indian Army’s presence was intruding more into previously closed areas where they had new access to Naga people and their communities. The continuing strategy of the Indian state to cut off the people from those on the negotiating table through its “cut and clear” policy spreading rumors to create confusion and to further separate and divide the Naga people’s public opinion have been waged aggressively though it has not been proved very successful so far. 

Much has happened in the dark enclosed zone where the war theatre has experimented away from the glare of both the national and international media. India’s preoccupation and fear of the “domino affect” on the Indian state once the Nagas rights have been conceded has resulted in a protracted violent conflict that has left huge heap of dehumanized victims in its wake.

Confusion generated by India’s co-opting Nagaland for a state under its dominion
The Indian Government using its Intelligence Bureau (IB) network designed a strategy to win over the moderate section of the Naga society by encouraging the formation of the Naga Peoples Convention (NPC). The NPC utilized mainly retired employees of the former colonial administration to demand creation of a state called Nagaland under the ambit of the Indian constitution. The Government of India inaugurated the Nagaland state in 1963, bringing together just a quarter of the Naga homeland. This ploy of administrative convenience further divided the Nagas into different states where they were made minorities with the exception of the newly imposed Nagaland state. 

The deliberate limitation of the ancestral territories and misrepresentation of Naga Homeland through the newly imposed Nagaland state boundaries has created much confusion about the struggle to the international community. It has further widened the miscommunication within Nagaland, as well through creation of artificial space and identities where the dissected territories were governed under the boots of the military. “Despite the first ceasefire agreement signed in 1964 between the representatives of the Indian and Naga Federal Government (FGN), persecution of the hill people continue, still largely unreported .”

The South Nagas Hill areas which was under the loose administrative supervision of the then Manipur territorial council clubbed with the Imphal Valley administration was made into the full fledged Indian state of Manipur in January 1972.

In August 1972 Indian Government unilaterally abrogated the ceasefire and declared the FGN and the Naga Army to be illegal. The Naga case which until then was conducted by the ‘External Affairs’ of the Union of India was unilaterally transferred into its Home Ministry without consultation declaring the issue was ‘Law and Order’ (internal) problem of the Indian state.

Political Negotiation
The ongoing political talks between GOI and NSCN have been based on the following ceasefire principles: that the talks are unconditional; they took place at the highest level of the Prime Minister; and they convened in a third neutral country. These talks indicate the Indian’s government’s de facto recognition of the Naga people’s sovereignty. In July 2002, the recognition of the “uniqueness of Naga history and situation” by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government in New Delhi under Prime Minister Vajpayee paved the way for serious negotiations between the two entities to begin. 

In 2003, the Naga resistance leadership visited New Delhi for the first time after many decades of living in exile, at the personal invitation of the Prime Minister of India. In December 2004, they came for a second visit, this time at the invitation of the new Prime Minister of India with the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in power. 

The NSCN leaders visit to India also gave them the opportunity to come to Nagaland where extensive consultations with the Naga public for preparing future substantive talks were held. Besides this also provided them the space to intensively negotiate with the Indian Government representatives. Further the talks were upgraded from a bureaucratic interlocutor to a political level through the appointment of a Group of Ministers headed by Oscar Fernandes from the Government of India had created a more conducive atmosphere for continuing the dialogue. 

Political parleys continued over the past 9 years with the ceasefire agreement been extended every one year at a time, except in July 2005.  The ceasefire extension period was shortened to six months at the insistence of the NSCN after seeing no tangible progress in the talks with the Government of India were occurring.

Hope for Peace
Many impediments are a causing of uneasiness about the fragile truce being broken. Some examples of these impediments include:

*    The further intensification of militarization in the area and continuance of ‘Disturb Areas Act’

*    The systematic occupation and transfer of populations from the subcontinent towards the periphery of the homeland
*     The increasing proliferation of small arms and drug trafficking in the region

*    The probable nexus between vested interest sections from business houses, bureaucracy, and military in prolonging the conflict

*    The lack of worthwhile infrastructural investment to keep pace with the growing needs of the local economy

*    The systematic collaboration between Indian Army and Burmese (Myanmar) military junta in the frontier areas to contain cross border terrorism

*    The use of ethnic conflict for repression and siphoning of resources from Naga territories

*    The non-inclusive nature of the current Naga talks

*    The lack of concrete response to the proposal made by the Naga negotiating team 

When Burma’s military Junta began under dictatorship of General Ne Win, its interest focused on clearing the Eastern Naga Hills under Sagaing division of Nagas. This was done to facilitate exploitation of local natural resources including oil deposits and logging in the area by many multinational companies. Despite these actions, Nagas do attempt to maintain cordial relationship with Burma’s democracy movement, as that is where hope for diplomatic resolution and recognition of Naga dignity lies. 

Neville Maxwell (South Asia correspondent of the Times London) assessed this tragedy in his work India, The Nagas and the Northeast  in the this statement:

The Nagas have been denied an independent national existence by the shape of imperial history in the subcontinent. They are victims of the integrating thrust of the British impact in South Asia. The legal forms which gave India her independence at the same time denied independence to Nagaland. Since 1947 their cause has been secession; and secession has two sides to it: there are Indian rights to be considered, as well as Nagas rights. 

India’s geo-strategic interest of keeping its eastern frontier intact, especially the Naga territories, is undoubted and indisputable. An equally important aspect of the truth is that the resolution of Naga homeland issue on the basis of exercising genuine self-determination can only provide a stable security corridor and economic growth for India’s quest for a dominant role in Asian power theatre where its north western knots towards central Asia are prospectively limited at the moment. In one of the past interviews to the media Naga leaders have asserted that they supported a peaceful political settlement that would allow the Nagas to remain “an independent, sovereign state with good relations with the neighbouring states of India, Burma and China .” There are obvious options of give and take which both entities should make the best of it.

Despite these difficulties, the Naga civil society movements with support from civil voices in India have openly demonstrated for early solution to the Indo-Naga political process reflects the peoples continued yearning for a united purpose and reconciliation within the national resistance to gain a just, honourable and lasting settlement. Will the Government of India respond with understanding and amicably resolve the unique case of the Naga nation diplomatically or will it re-launch another deadly phase of military assault in its most sensitive regions under occupation? In today’s world of electronic gadgets and information war: Will the Naga demand for an independent homeland remain isolated as it has in the preceding more than half a century enclosure? These are few questions that time will only unravel. Watch out!