‘Naga history, the quest for freedom and politics’

In a no-holds-barred account, the former Chief Minister of Nagaland, in his autobiography, “A Naga’s Quest for Fulfillment,” recounts the period revolving around the rise and fall of Congress party, the formation of the Naga People’s Convention, formation of Statehood and a lost offer  

Moa Jamir
Dimapur | August 7  

Contrary to popular view, the former Chief Minister of Nagaland and incumbent Governor of Odisha, Dr. SC Jamir said he left State politics of his own volition by declining the offer to form the Government despite Congress emerging as the largest party in 2003 general election.  

“To leave the state politics was one of the decisions of my life as well as my political career,” the Governor of Odisha disclosed in his autobiography, ‘A Naga’s Quest for Fulfillment.’  

He also recalled how a wrong impression was created by “certain sections” that he deserted a “sinking ship” as the Party in Nagaland began losing ground.  

Claiming that the Nagaland Pradesh Congress Committee under his leadership had grown from “strength to strength” through “sheer hard work and a people centric approach,” Jamir pointed out, “The reality was that Nagaland was regarded as one of the strongest citadels of the Congress in the entire North East Region.”  

Narrating the events relating to his departure from the State politics, he alleged that as the Party’s reputation grew, it become an “eyesore” to a certain Naga Political Group (NPG) as well as the then National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and both “indulged in serious conspiracy to dislodge the Congress in Nagaland in the election of 2003.”  

In an explosive claim, Jamir said, the NDA Ministers especially the “Defence Minister and the Minister for State for Home (Internal Security)” took an active part in collaborating with “collective leadership” of the NPG to dislodge Congress.  

“The Defence Minister landed in Kohima when the election was barely a week away. There was nothing objectionable in his arrival in Kohima, yet what he did was highly objectionable,” Jamir maintained.  

According to the book, the said Minister after calling Army Officers stationed in Nagaland told them “to keep a distance of one kilometer from polling booths,” when at that time for a “free, fair, and fear-free election,” the presence of Army was an “absolute necessary to keep the Naga underground (s) at bay.”  

However, he said “Not a word was written” and the Ministers’ action were like “hammering the last nail on the coffin of democracy.”  

“The Minister of State for Home Affairs (Internal Security) ensured that the paramilitary forces were asked to observe restraint in their activities,” Jamir further maintained.  

The NPG leaders and cadres started moving with their escorts to work for the rival party and many Congress workers were targeted through “threats, intimidations and kidnapping,” he added.  

“Election Observers deputed to Nagaland by Election Commission,” Jamir continued, “were no doubt good officers” but “when they landed in Nagaland, they did everything else in Nagaland besides their assigned job: observation.”  

Despite all the “maneuvering method” the Congress emerged as the single largest party in the house of 60, he added.  

“Duly the Governor invited me to form the government,” Jamir said, adding he “declined his offer,” though most of the party members were of the opinion that the Congress Party should form the government with the help of some independents as a “fitting reply” to the opposition.  

“My line of thinking and the corresponding action was based on my strong belief in the democratic traditions and my conviction on value based politics,” Jamir justified. “If the people of Nagaland had not mandated the Congress with an absolute or even a simple majority, it was clear that people wanted a change.”  

Jamir also admitted that he was chided by others that he “committed a blunder” by throwing away the opportunity but said, “I had already made up my mind and was convinced that trying to manipulate things to become the Chief Minister was not my cup of tea.”  

Following the rejection by Jamir, the Naga People’s Front with the help of independents formed the government and the rest is history.  

Afterwards, Jamir said he made a conscious decision to stay away from state politics though contributing to Nagaland’s cause in “whatever small ways possible.”  

But whatever spurred Jamir to return to State politics, after his gubernatorial assignments in Goa and Maharashtra, he contested a by-election necessitated by the death of Congress legislator Nungshizenba Longkumer in 2011.  

In what is considered as the biggest dent in his glowing political career, Jamir lost the by-poll of Aonglenden Assembly constituency to the ruling NPF candidate Toshikopba Longkumer.  

Yet again, in 2013 he nearly returned to active State politics after “Congress workers in hordes” as well as some leading personalities in the State met him requesting him to return to active politics in the state.

  A telephone call at the eleventh hour pulled him back from making any adventurous move.   The call came from Sonia Gandhi, Jamir wrote. Shortly, he was deputed to Odisha as its Governor.  

On Naga People’s Convention (NPC) and Peace Process

On the formation of Naga People’s Convention (NPC), the Statehood of Nagaland and the history of Naga Political movement, Jamir contended that NPC was born to “salvage the hope and aspiration of the common Nagas who suffered immeasurably in the hands of the underground and the armed forces.”  

Narrating the events leading to its birth, Jamir said Naga Club’s (1918) first major political action was the submission of a memorandum to Simon Commission on January 10, 1929 elucidating the political aspiration of the Nagas; followed by formation of respective tribal councils (TCs) with “pronounced aim and objectives to protect their customary rights, customs, land and socio-cultural heritage.”

After World War II, the Naga Hills Tribal Council (NHDTC) was formed. Later, its nomenclature was changed to Naga National Council (NNC) with membership from both government officials and tribal leaders- a huge body representing all section of the Nagas and soon become a political force, he wrote.  

The NNC took up what Naga Club had left behind when NNC Secretary T Sakrie wrote a letter to the then Indian National Congress (INC) President Nehru stating Naga’s position – “that after ten years of Indian guardianship, the Nagas should be free to choose their own future…”  

Neither a letter from Nehru stating his own “viewpoints” or a visit by the Advisory Committee on the Aboriginal Tribes to Kohima on May 20, 1947 could persuade the NNC to change its stand, Jamir wrote.  

Jamir claimed that Nehru was completely “concerned and aware” of the Naga issue. He sent Akbar Hydari to visit Kohima for fresh discussion leading to the signing of the “9-Point Agreement” which “conceded a measure of autonomy” to the Nagas. The Constituent Assembly rejected the Agreement.

Angami Zapu Phizo, one of the most dynamic and forceful Naga leaders then ventured into something “unthinkable and unimaginable” at that point of time, Jamir recalled, by conducting a “plebiscite” on the issue of Naga Independence and “90 percent  (99.9% in others’ account) of the people supported the Independence of the Nagas” and the momentum became stronger.  

It estranged the relation between the administration and the Nagas, Jamir said.

  When Nehru and then the Burmese Premier Thai Lu visited Kohima on March 30, 1953, the “colonial mindset” of one senior officer “polluted” the whole atmosphere “antagonizing” the dignitaries as well as the Nagas, Jamir said.  

The said officer, the deputy commissioner of the district (according to another account) denied Naga delegation to present a memorandum to the dignitaries and subsequently something unprecedented occurred, “the Naga people walk out” on Nehru.  

“The Nagas failed to overcome the official barrier… This arrogant and irresponsible act by one officer was more than enough to sabotage the whole process,” Jamir lamented.  

Affronted, Assam Government adopted a repressive measure against the NNC workers and arrest warrants were issued, driving many of the office-bearers and other well-known frontline activists underground.  

The police were given a free hand and witnessed untold oppression in their hands- “This led to more people going underground…This was the beginning of the real underground movement.”  

Consequently, this development took new shape when Phizo formed the "Naga Central Government" on March 22, 1956, which was later renamed "Federal Government of Nagaland" (FGN) in 1959.  

As confrontation continued, Jamir remembered it as a phase of “anarchy and terror” and the common people suffered worst.  

Villages were “grouped,” “burning of houses and granaries made life hell,” “house-to-house search and arrest become the order of the day” and “insiders” believed that casualty were in “thousands and thousands.”  

The Assam Disturbed Areas Act of 1955 and the Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act, 1958 to confer ‘Special Powers’ on the armed forces as well as provide them the legal framework to function in the ‘disturbed areas’ of Assam and the Union Territory of Manipur, were promulgated to quell the resistance.  

He also recalled how this also sows the seeds of confrontation between the moderates and the extremist in NNC with tragic consequences.  

Under such circumstances, a delegation met Nehru in September and October 1956 and follow-up talks with Assam Government was held, which eventually led to the All Tribe’s People’s Convention at Kohima.  

The five-day conference concluded on August 26, 1957. The Naga People’s Convention (NPC) was thus formally formed.  

Subsequently, a set of resolutions adopted at Kohima Convention was submitted to the Governor on August 30, 1947. An NPC delegation also met Nehru. This led to the formation of Naga Hills-Tuensang Area (NHTA) under one administrative unit directly under the Ministry of External Affairs.  

The Third Convention of NPC in Mokokchung in 1959 drafted and fully accepted the 16-Point Memorandum to form the basis of negotiation with Government of India (GoI).  

Thereafter, a Joint Conference was called on April 1960 at Viswama to deliberate on the inclusion of ‘Undergrounds’ in the Negotiating Body.

While there was positive overture from them, Jamir claimed that this time too, a person played the “role of villain” by declaring that the GoI “will never grant statehood to Naga people.”  

This was enough to send a “wrong signal” and the meeting could not be held.  

An Interim Body (IB) was formally inaugurated on February 18, 1961 and 42 members were installed. The first Chairman of IB, Dr. Imkongliba Ao never got the chance to preside over the formal body as he was “assassinated” on August 25, 1961 in Mokokchung.  

One of the “finest Nagas,” he will be forever remembered as one of the “leading architects” of the State of Nagaland, Jamir wrote. The state was formally inaugurated on December 1, 1963 with P Shilu Ao as the first Chief Minister.  

Indiraji’s peace offer, a lost opportunity?

Indira Gandhi had real zeal and sincerity to the Naga political problem but was blunt in her approach, said Jamir.

When direct talks with Kughato Sukhai began, the then Ato Kilonser, she openly told the leadership that Nagas could have everything except defence, External Affairs, Currency, Communication and few others which did not concern the state, he disclosed.  

“I take this opportunity for posterity that the Nagas, by rejecting Indiraji’s offer, lost the finest and great opportunity ever offered,” Jamir declared in his autobiography.  

However, Harish Chandola in “The Naga Story, First Armed Struggle in India” observed that “The talks had become a formality. Government participants did not pay proper attention to what the Naga delegation was saying... whoever came to negotiate with the Nagas said just one thing: accept the Indian Constitution. Nobody tried to explain what it contained…”  

In the whole process, Jamir claimed that recognising “Naga underground as unalienable part of Naga society and how they must have a say in the final political settlement” was adopted at his instance. Changes of nomenclature like “the hostiles” or “insurgents” etc were also his idea, according to Jamir.  

Ceasefire with two NSCNs in 1997 and 2001 was done because of  his “single minded-perseverance,” he maintained. However, divergent views have also leads to collision courses with many actors.  

He also noted, “The Underground obsession with sovereignty has taken the movement nowhere; rather the various faction of underground are confused at present.”

  “The People of Nagaland should quickly understand the value of being practical and pragmatic.”