Jack T Chakhesang with inputs by Dr N Kezienuo
The Naga political dialogue started without pre-condition at the highest Prime Ministerial level on the basis of between two distinct entities, namely, Government of India (GoI) and NSCN (IM). The talks which began in 1997 were held in third countries over several years.
It took five years for GoI to clearly understand the unique history of the Naga people in that we have been independent and sovereign entity (even as Village-States) having rights over our own land and resources and properties for centuries.--- till date.
In 1952, when then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru accompanied by his counterpart U Nu of Burma (now Myanmar) visited Kohima, various Naga tribes in their traditional attire gathered at the local ground (now Khuochiezhie) for a public meeting. Our Naga leaders at that point of time had requested the then Indian administrative officer to arrange a private audience with Nehru. The bureaucrat concerned refused to accede to the request.
When Nehru got up to speak the Naga crowd also stood up, did an about turn and walked off the ground. This not only embarrassed Nehru but he must have felt .insulted. As he and U Nu flew towards Imphal, they arbitrarily demarcated the boundaries between India and Burma. This resulted in the international boundary line cutting right across the house of the Angh of Longwa Village in Mon District. So, even today, the descendants of the Angh eat and drink in Myanmar and a few steps westwards sleep in an adjoining room in Nagaland. This and its consequences prevail even today all because of the obstinacy of the then administrative officer at Kohima.
The Nagas did not participate in two consecutive general elections to the Lok Sabha after 99.9 per cent of the population stamped their thumb impressions to be independent nation on May 16, 1951.The Indian Army started concentrating its forces in what the British called Free Naga Tuensang Frontier from 1954 which the Nagas regarded as invasion.
The Naga National Council (NNC) led by AZ Phizo founded the Federal Government of Nagaland (FGN) at Parashen in Rengma region on March 22, 1956. On this day, the Naga National Flag was also hoisted for the first time by Thongti Chang, Chief of the Naga Home Guards of the then Hongking Government through reading of the Scriptures by eminent leaders. Naga Home Guards was later re-designated as Naga Army.
Events came to such a pass that the GoI invoked the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 and launched military operations throughout Naga-inhabited areas.
NAGA PEOPLE’S CONVENTION
The Naga Army proved its mettle in guerrilla warfare but it were mostly rural and remote areas that bore the brunt of Indian Army, Assam Rifles, CRPF, BSF and Assam Police operations. So much so, that concerned and like-minded leaders from various Naga tribes got together to form the Naga People’s Convention (NPC) and initiated series of negotiations with GoI which eventually resulted in the 16-Point Agreement. This led to Article 371(A) being incorporated into the Constitution of India. Based on this Nagaland became the 16th State of the Indian Union on 1st December 1963. Ours is the only State created on political grounds and was inaugurated by then President Dr S Radhakrishnan. Former Chief Minister and Governor as also Padma Vibhushan awardee Dr SC Jamir is the only surviving member of NPC.
Unfortunately, the demarcation of inter-State boundaries vis-a-vis our neighbouring States still leaves much to be desired. For instance, at that point of time, the majority of Tangkhul and Mao tribes which border Phek and Southern Angami areas preferred to remain under the administrative jurisdiction of Manipur (which was not even a State then) even though they were given the option to be part of Nagaland State “if they so desire”.
Likewise, several Naga tribes inhabiting contiguous areas in Manipur, Assam and North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) and now Arunachal Pradesh declined to be part of the newly created Nagaland State. In fact, there is still a Disturbed Area Belt (DAB) between Assam and Nagaland where there are some Naga tribes and also happens to contain deposits of oil, natural gas, tea, reserved forests, timber, various mineral resources including micro-minerals and mineral waters complemented with flora and fauna and natural herbals not commonly found in other parts of the world or even in India.
Regarding contiguous Naga-inhabited areas in North Myanmar, this has international ramifications and has to be dealt with dialogue and diplomacy.
RISE OF NSCN (IM)
After NSCN (IM) supremo Th Muivah and supporters trekked to China via Kachin State in Burma during 1970s and got indoctrinated into the Chinese system of communism/socialism, the split from NNC became inevitable. Prior to this the FGN had split into the breakaway Revolutionary Govt. of Nagaland (RGN) and some of its members were later rehabilitated into the Indian Border Security Force (BSF). The Shillong Accord was also a factor and the NSCN was born in 1980.
Also, soon after Shillong Accord was signed, then Chief Minister Hokishe Sema’s convoy was ambushed on Kohima-Dimapur highway and this resulted in Naga affairs being transferred from the Union Foreign Ministry to Home Affairs.
Our Naga History has meandered a long way since then. Many unfortunate events occurred in between. Yet, even as of now, the Naga issue is still a political one. In fact, then Prime Minister of India Atal Behari Vajpayee declared it to be so on July 11, 2007. Echoing him, his Deputy Lal Krishna Advani said the GoI was well aware of Naga political “aspirations.”
The first Interlocutor appointed for the negotiations was Swaraj Kaushal. He was replaced by K Padmanabhaiah with ministerial status. The latter stated that Naga areas in Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh could be created as Autonomous Regional Territories by GoI provided the demand for territorial integrity with Nagaland State be given up.
Proposal for “Shared Sovereignty” was made by RS Pandey, IAS (Retd.) in 2010. After RN Ravi took over as Interlocutor, something happened in 2012 following the refusal to allow Th. Muivah to visit his native village Somdal by then Manipur Chief Minister O Ibobi Singh. The matter must be brought up in the Naga negotiation talks as it seemed that Ukhrul and Senapati Districts in Manipur and Eastern Naga Frontier in Nagaland would be given autonomous administrations in respective States.
According to RN Ravi “Shared Sovereignty” is defined as “between Centre and States in the like manner of federated States within Indian Union.” On the other hand, NSCN (IM) claimed to have maintained a stand defining “Sharing of Sovereign States as two entities outside the Indian Constitution.”
OIL AND WATER DO NOT MIX
Khekiye Sema, IAS (Retd), has stated that the above two statements was “like trying to mix oil and water.” Here the pertinent question arises as to who was telling the truth---if not lies? He further stated “one is more inclined to conjecture that the NSCN (IM) perhaps must have conceded this concept of shared sovereignty status to two independent entities in line with R.N. Ravi’s definition of shared sovereignty.” This perception was further accentuated by the official statement of late General (Retd) Kholi Konyak during Naga Consultative Meeting at Niathu Resort, Chümoukedima on Feb. 29, 2012.
PAN NAGA HOHO
Regarding Pan Naga Hoho as propagated by NSCN (IM), it is intended to have full overriding authority over all departments of Govt. This implies that it cannot be democratic in essence. In spite of our head-hunting past gradually overwhelmed by impact of Christianity 150 years ago, the Naga nature, by and large, is still basically democratic in that everyone has rights to put forward one’s views on any matter for general consideration. There has to be checks and balances within the constituted rules/norms in any part of the world as per mandate of majority of the people. Pan Naga Hoho also implies its outreach to contiguous Naga-inhabited areas in Myanmar which is a no go.
FLAG & YEHZABO
The NSCN (IM) is also insistent on separate Flag and Yehzabo (Constitution). As anyone is aware, every school, college, civil society organisations, various institutions, sports teams etc have their flag/banner and sets of rules and regulations or Dos and Don’ts. As it is, Union Home Minister Amit Shah has already conceded that the organisation can fly its flag whenever it needs to but not on Indian national holidays or Government Offices.
Besides, the NSCN (IM)’s Yehzabo is most likely slightly different from those of the various NNPGs. Even the Flags of all the groups vary slightly from the original Naga National Flag hoisted at Parashen in 1956.
It is expected that the NSCN (IM) leaders would be wise enough to be grateful for enjoying the benefits of Nagaland’s Statehood and not indulge in delaying tactics regarding final solution of Naga political issue or even dream to rule Nagaland State not even by proxy or in whatever and whichever way they can try lest they invite repercussions from the general public.
The “Framework Agreement” with NSCN (IM) notwithstanding, all said and done, however, the “Agreed Position” of October 19, 2017 as enunciated by RN Ravi and NNPGs is seemingly the more plausible option. The concept is to enhance Nagaland State’s representation in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha to three seats each instead of the present one each in both the Houses. Also, a Legislative Council is to be instituted and Members in the Legislative Assembly increased to 80 seats from the present 60 seats. Also, special provisions to be made for the Naga areas in Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh accordingly since territorial integration is out of question for the time being.
As such, plus many other aspects at this watershed in Naga History, it would be prudent along with the rest of NE region to remain part of India which is currently the world’s most populous country at 1.42 billion plus and largest democracy and a unique civilisation heritage of some thousand years. With GoI’s focus on “Act East” policy under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi Ji we can look forward to more ongoing overall development activities even in the remotest areas, surge in tourism, boost in economic enterprises et al.
The region is also the gateway to the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) especially at this time when digitisation technology his made the world literally a global village. Why, with just a click on your mobile phone, you can connect with anyone anywhere in the world within seconds. India is also focussed on other areas for world stability through peace and international trade not the least being “vocal for local to global.”
The observations heretofore cited face a setback due to the unfortunate ongoing conflict between Meitei and Kuki communities in Manipur beginning May 3, 2023 and continues although sporadically. Thousands of Kukis have been displaced after their villages and 253 churches were set aflame causing over 100 dead and a few thousands displaced and some have taken shelter in Mizoram and Nagaland where their welfare has been taken care of by the host villages.
New Delhi has constituted a Peace Committee to restore peace and normalcy. This will include the Chief Minister, some Ministers of the State Government, MPs, MLAs plus leaders from different political parties and ethnic groups. Several Kuki groups have sought more time to the Government’s outreach while several Meitei representatives have agreed to be part of the committee. Peace and normalcy will be the top most priority.
The objective is laudable but is under a cloud owing to objections from some quarters over induction of some of its members including Chief Minister N Biren Singh who is accused of masterminding the forcible eviction of Kuki villagers without due conventional process and accusing them of indulging in poppy cultivation. Or, is all this part of a hidden agenda of ethnic cleansing? The various tribes of Manipur have objected to demand for granting of schedule tribe status to Meiteis who are Vaishnavite Hindus as this would enable the latter to buy tribal lands and eventually be able to displace some poor original tribal owners-because ethics may not matter when huge sums of money are involved. And this soon after the disastrous train accident in Balasore, Odisha and while India holds the G-20 presidency and the world is keenly observing.
Peace and normalcy will ensure full development in NE Region and will enhance India’s outreach to countries comprising ASEAN and even be a counter balance to China’s influence in the region because Beijing for sure is very, very seriously monitoring the situation in our very own strategic location.
To all leaders and soldiers of our movement for Naga Homeland and of whichever group they may be part of, as also all stakeholders concerned, a fervent appeal is to come out of parochial, patriarchal, other fixed mentality (if any), and outdated comfort zone, please accept reality for what it is and practically and sensibly strive to contribute for the overall welfare of our future upcoming generations. We must also keep our distinct Naga Political identity intact to preserve our right for Post Solution Self-Determination, Integration, our Sovereignty over our own land, resources and property vide Article 371(A) in Indian Constitution which also safeguard our cultural, traditions and customary laws. Let us give them a legacy to be proud of and encourage them to greater heights of human endeavour. As per the biblical adage, “To build high, you must begin low.” In other words, it is not about humility losing prestige or the trials of poverty, discrimination or even persecution but great moral rectitude and faith in our ability to surpass any challenges with resilience of the human spirit.
From this it follows that we have to find ways and means for the final resolution of our Naga political issue through honourable and acceptable terms at the earliest. Perhaps a status higher than statehood could be possible?