Dr BR Ambedkar and Naga Nationalism

Aniruddha Babar, PhD
Asst. Professor, Tetso College

Political State is a compulsory political organization with a centralized government that maintains a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within a certain geographical territory. State can also be imagined as a model of structure of governance where its subjects and beneficiaries are engage in fortifying their natural political desires, aspirations and expressions. The concept of Political State is more or less like a mathematical or any scientific formula which need certain conditions to fulfil itself, and therefore 4 elements i.e. Population, Territory, Government and Sovereignty need to be present to call their amalgamation a ‘STATE’. It has also been understood that the ‘State’ is an organic concept, however, the idea and imagination of it could be natural but its creation definitely lies and originated in the inherent desire of human being to ‘Rule’. In short, State is patch of land with a sovereign government. However, on the other hand in political science, a "nation" refers to a group of people who feel bound into a single body by shared culture, values, folkways, religion and/or language (these are necessary elements to develop a sense of nationalism among the group of people residing on a given common territory). States often coincide with nations (and are called "nation-states," but not always. However, the Indo-Naga Relations tests the limits of the Political Science while taking its fundamental concepts to altogether different dimensions in the context of Naga nationality &Nationalism.  

Dr Ambedkar elaborated on the idea of Nationality and Nationalism in his book Pakistan or the Partition of India. He describes nationality as a, "consciousness of kind, awareness of the existence of that tie of kinship” and nationalism as "the desire for a separate national existence for those who are bound by this tie of kinship." The words of Dr Ambedkar show the depth and character of his knowledge about the practical dynamics of the complex reality of the Political State. In short, political state can never acquire the status of ‘Nation’ naturally but should have been first born in the hearts and minds of people. Therefore, the concept of Nation is indeed an‘emotional’ construct which develops out of natural relationship of people of any given geographical region among themselves and also the relationship of people with their land. State can be built with conquest, not the Nation.  

Before the British conquered the Naga region in 1879-80, Nagas were living in a state of intermitted warfare occasionally among themselves and frequently with the Assamese of the Assam valley to the North and West of their region and Manipuris to the South. They never conquered Nagas nor were the Nagas subjected to their rules. Naga region within the British administered area then consisted of more than eight regions quite different from one another and there were more regions (Frontier) outside the administered area. This helps us to understand that the Nagas traditionally have had no unity among themselves and it is only the British Government that brought them together ‘administratively’. Therefore in this context it can be said that the formation of Naga Club in the year 1918 marked a historical shift in the modern history of the Nagas. It was the beginning of political renaissance as the Naga club which was formed by the veterans of First World War helped dilute the strong ‘tribal’ currents and brought the different Naga tribes on a single political platform under the ‘Naga’ identity.  

In 1929-30 the representatives of the Nagas gave memorandum to the Simon Commission stating that they would prefer to be left alone and not to be brought under “New Reform”. Observing the changing wind in the political sky of India Nagas formed full-fledged political organ in February 1946 which came to be known as the Naga National Council (NNC). Owing to the independent status of the Nagas they declared their independence on 14th of August, 1947. However, the agreement that the Nagas under the leadership of NNC entered into with the governor of Assam Mr. Akbar Hyderi was not recognized by the Government of India. That was the big blow to the trust that Nagas had on the political leadership of the Independent India.  

Meanwhile, Dr.Ambedkar was worried about the fate of Northeast Tribes in newly independent India. Dr.Ambedkar was fighting for Special constitutional arrangement in the interests of the tribals of the North-East India. He was accused by the fellow members of constituent assembly specifically from Assam for trying to vivisect India by creating constituencies of differences rather than building a nation whose members have equal rights and unifying laws. Considering the historical importance of the stand of Babasaheb in defending the rights of the Nagas and other tribes in the then ‘ASSAM’ it is imperative to quote his defense verbatim:   While replying to the debate on the discussion on the constitutional fate of the tribes of northeast Dr. B R Ambedkar, Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly vehemently argued: "…... The tribal people in areas other than Assam are more or less Hinduised, more or less assimilated with the civilisation and culture of the majority of the people in whose midst they live. With regard to the tribals in Assam that is not the case. Their roots are still in their own civilisation and their own culture. …….. Their laws of inheritance, their laws of marriage, customs and so on are quite different from that of the Hindus. I think that is the main distinction which influenced us to have a different sort of scheme for Assam from the one we have provided for other territories. In other words, the position of the tribals of Assam, whatever may be the reason for it, is somewhat analogous to the position of the Red Indians in the United States, as against the white emigrants there. Now, what did the United States do with regard to the Red Indians? So far as I am aware, what they did was to create what are called Reservations of Boundaries within which the Red Indians lived. They are a “Republic” by themselves. No doubt, by the law of the United States they are citizens of the United States. But that is only a nominal allegiance to the Constitution of the United States. Factually they are a separate, independent people. It was felt by the United States that their laws and modes of living, their habits and manners of life were so distinct that it would be dangerous to bring them at one shot, so to say, within the range of the laws made by the white people for white persons and for the purpose of the white civilisation. I agree that we have been creating Regional and District Councils to some extent on the lines which were adopted by the United States for the purpose of the Red Indians."  

The words of Dr.Ambedkar is a clear-cut indication that he was intended to create ‘Sovereign Tribal Nations’ under the nomenclature of Autonomous District Council. He was inspired by the model of Shared Sovereignty that was implemented in USA and marked a peaceful co-existence of the Red-Indians and White Americans.

Dr.Ambedkar was aware that the Nagas have developed a distinct sense of ‘Nationalism’ which is far different than what the caste-ridden Indian society has.However, Dr.Ambedkar was alone in the constituent assembly balancing and envisioning the fate of gigantic region called India and as a result his idea of the ‘Tribal Nation’ could not see the light of the day. The basic vision of ‘northeast tribal justice’ was reduced merely to the autonomous district councils without any kind of share in the sovereign powers of the central government. The imagination of Dr.Ambedkar was to create a nation giving due weightage and justice to the different distinct nationalities which emerged over the period of time in the northeast region of India.  

Freedom Movement of India has been termed by some writers as a movement of upper caste Indians for the freedom that was taken away from them with the advent of the Britishers. Mr.Gandhi’s call for Quit India movement was neither heard by the Untouchable Dalits who then have been living a life of slavery of thousands of years nor by the Nagas who were then awakened with a sense of justice and political identity; as both were battling on different grounds for their survival,rights, destiny and future.  

Dr.Ambedkar understood that sooner or later, the Hindu fanaticism will try to influence and subjugate the culture that the Tribals of northeast have protected for thousands of years and therefore in the interest of natural justice and humanity he found it necessary to protect them from upcoming cultural hegemony. However, destiny had something else in mind. Due to the imperialist policy of the then Government led by Pandit Nehru Nagas were required to prepare themselves to defend their lands and all hell broke loose. Moreover, 6th Schedule of the constitution of India turned out to be a greatest joke. However, Dr Ambedkar’s thoughts and vision survived.  

Flash-forward to 2015. With the Framework Agreement of 2015 a new possibility to reinvent and rejuvenate the Indo-Naga Relationship has arrive on the political platform of Nagaland. It has also been informed that the Shared Sovereignty is a core principle of Framework Agreement. If the idea of Shared Sovereignty is examined deeper, it may revealed that the roots and the genesis of the idea could be found in the historical submission of Dr Ambedkar before the constituent assembly which has already been produced verbatim in present article.  

Invisible contribution of Dr B R Ambedkar to the struggle of the Nagas and other north-eastern Tribes has largely been kept in dark. Dr Ambedkar was not integrationist but was humanist. With the arrival of Shared Sovereignty as a probable solution to the Indo-Naga Conflict people should not forget the wise old man - Dr Ambedkar, who thought of them.