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The Naga struggle for sovereignty: Its past and the probable future

Seminar paper presented to the national seminar on peace, non-violence and national interest, on the occasion of 50th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's martyrdom, at Shillong.

(26-28 July, 1999)
Lecturer, Deptt. Of Philosophy
NEHU, Shillong -793014

The objective of my paper is to present the ground realities of the Nagas as it attains today as accurately as possible and to sketch the historical course of its development. This will help us to appreciate the complexity of the Naga problem which is often over simplified by seeing as one to one confrontation situation. It will be seen that the violence generated by this complexity is multifaced and requires a great deal of understanding and good will on the part of all those concerned to be able to greatly reduce if not completely get rid of the senseless violence, once and for all.

The first political expression of the collective will of the Nagas was made in the formation of the Naga Club in 1918 at Kohima. It had limited purpose or aim of representing Naga interests to the British Government without having a very clear picture of what later came to be known as Naga Nationalism. However, the consciousness of nationhood was not explicitly present in the submission of the memorandum to the Simon Commission visiting Nagaland in 1929. The substance of the memorandum was the earnest request to the British Government to leave the Nagas as free people as before and not to include them within the Indian Union. The out come of the memorandum was the declaration of the Naga areas as a Special Backward Area later changed into an Excluded Area status by the British India Act of 1935 which became affective in 1937, since the Nagas objected to the word 'backward'.

This was followed by the 9-point Agreement signed between the Government of India and the Naga National Council on 9th June 1947. The Government of India was represented by Sir Akbar Hydari, the Governor of the then undivided Assam. The 9-point Sir Akbar Hydari Agreement reflects the willingness of the Naga people to enter into a peaceful settlement of their political status. This agreement included an experimental coexistence with India for a period of ten years, to be reviewed at the end of that period. And this was a clear signal that they entertained the idea of peaceful coexistence with India and this was a temporary arrangement which was misunderstood to be a permanent settlement. Furthermore, this settlement was read by the Government of India as a political commitment and accomplished fact of union with the Indian union. But for the Naga leaders it was read in a different way, they did not consider a "trail" as an accomplished fact and consequently they felt cheated. Given this interpretation, the Government of India thought it right to suppress the expression of any other interpretation of the situation. As a result, dissidents were subjected to great military violence. On July 19,1947, the NNC let by Dr. A.Z. Phizo met M.Gandhi at his Bhangi Colony in Delhi. In the meeting, Phizo categorically stated that the Nagas would declare their Independence Day on 14th August 1947, to which Gandhi agreed after a lengthy discussion.

In reality the Nagas declared their Independence Day on 14th August 1947. On 27th August 1948, no tax campaign public demonstration led by A.Dihrii was held at Mao-Gate, in which three people were killed on the spot and several others injured by the 4th battalion of Assam Rifles. They were the first Naga Martyrs. On November 28, 1949, the Naga delegation met C.Rajagopalachari, The first Governor - General of Independent India, at Shillong. Rajagopalachari told the Naga delegation that India wants to be friendly with them and it is upto the Nagas either to become part of India or be a separate Nation. On May 8, 1950, the Government of India offered District Autonomy to the Nagas. This offer had outraged the Nagas and they were all the more determined to fight and deep animosity developed towards India. On December 11, 1950, Dr. A.Z. Phizo was elected as the president of the NNC, with his election the Naga' Freedom Movement ' became stronger and stronger. 'Non-cooperation' and 'Civil Disobedience' were the clarion calls given by Phizo. On May 16, 1951, plebiscite was conducted all over Nagaland and the result was overwhelming for independence with 99.9% voting in favour. On May 11,1952, the Naga delegation met the Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru and informed him about the result of the plebiscite. In the same year, the first Indian general election was boycotted by the Nagas. On 18, October 1952, a public demonstration was held in Kohima in which Lasibito, the assistant judge of the official Angami Tribal Council court was shot dead by an Assam Police officer. In September 1954,"Sovereign Republic of Nagaland" was set up. On March 22, 1956, Phizo established "Naga Central Government" to replace the earlier one. In 1959, this was changed to the "Federal Government of Nagaland". The Naga Home guards was also formed. Open serious conflict began in March 1956. Rapid mobilization began, and Mr. Besii Chakho the then Governor of Japfii state was the first from the Naga Hills of Manipur to join Phizo's army in the same year, i.e. 1956.Due to the differences of opinion and ideology, T.Sakhrie was assassinated in January 1956 by his fellow Nagas and Sakhrei's colleagues were also forced over ground to seek the protection from the Government of India. By this time, practically all the young able-bodied - men had joined the Naga Home guards. Since the early 1950's the dynamics of violence has been unleashed in Nagaland. On the other hand, the underground had started their forcible recruitment drive. Side by side their demand for food and shelter from different villages had intensified. Kidnappings, tortures and killings of the informers and other dissident started. On the other hand, harassment, beatings, tortures, rape, killings, burning of villages, burning of paddy-field huts and granaries, stealing, while combing the villages, herding of villages into concentration camps, from the Indian Armed Forces. And thus they forgot the great insight of Mahatma Gandhi who said, "An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind". In this way, the violent chain reaction was set in motion.

In the late fifties (1950s) some moderates who had abandoned the extreme violent path felt that it would be better for the Nagas to be with the Government of India. Consequently, the Naga People's convention was formed. Dr. Imkongliba was elected as its President. The NPC spearheaded the movement to create Nagaland State within the Indian Union with a high degree of autonomy. As a result, the crucial 16-point Agreement was signed in 1960 with the Union of India. On December 1,1963, Nagaland became a full-fledged state of India. With this agreement, Nagaland was placed under the External Affairs Ministry. And India effectively and decisively made its present felt in Naga politics and history. For all practical purpose, Nagas had become Indians with this Agreement whether they liked it or not. The original NNC which claimed to represent the Naga people felt that the 16- point Agreement was a complete sell out of the Naga Political cause or struggle and they felt sidelined. Eventually Dr. Imkongliba the NPC President was assassinated.

Since violence was so rampant, the Naga Baptist Church took initiative to bring peace and normalcy. Finally, the Nagaland peace council was set up and a cease-fire agreement was reached in May 1964 which become effective from September 6,1964. Several parleys were held, including 6(six) negotiations between the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the underground Prime minister Sughato Sukhai and his colleagues, in 1966-67. Mrs. Indira Gandhi was willing to consider the proposal of Suisa the then Naga MP from outer Manipur constituency, that is, a status higher than the statehood. But Indira Gandhi's "complete Autonomy" was not spelled out. In the meantime, serious misunderstanding within the underground had started. By 1968, a major split within the Naga Political Movement started with the formation of the Revolutionary Government of Nagaland by the then Naga Army General Kaito. Kaito in collaboration with the Indian Army started attacking other fellow underground loyal to Dr .A. Z .Phizo. Taking advantage of the Indian Army support, Kaito's men started killing and torturing the opposite camp partly to settle the old scores. Among the killed included General Kaito, while the prominent peace mission member Rev. Eshuo Ashuli Mao was arrested at Tobiifii, Christian Center and tortured to death at Mokhufii Center in 1972 by Kaito's own party men who are presently known as Poumei and the Indian army. But this counter-movement from within died in 1973. Nevertheless, this was a serious jolt within the underground movement as a little more than 1500 Sema underground joined the Indian Army led by the self-styled Gen. Zuheto. Finally, the negotiation was dead - locked. The cease-fire was officially over by August 31, 1972. Charges and counter-charges were leveled against each other in violating the terms of the cease-fire agreement. In 1972, Nagaland was transferred to the Ministry of Home Affairs from the Ministry of External Affairs without any debate. On June 29, 1972, the Nagaland Legislative Assembly adopted a strong protest-resolution against this unilateral decision. But the Government of India ignored the resolution of the Nagaland Legislative Assembly. Since the split was so severe that after a couple of years of dissolution of the Revolutionary Government of Nagaland, some of the underground leaders felt that they needed to sign another agreement with the Government of India since many underground were arrested and jailed. Thus came the 1975 Shillong Accord. The Accord was signed at Shillong on 10th and 11th November 1975, between the Governor of Nagaland Shri, L. P. Singh representing the Government of India and the 6(six) underground leaders without the consultations and involvement of top leaders like A. Z. Phizo and Th. Muivah. This accord was the biggest 'concession' that the underground had offered to the Government of India. According to this accord, different peace-camps were set up in Nagaland. A Liaison Committee was also constituted consisting of the members of the Nagaland peace council as the go-between. The representatives of the underground agreed to solve the Naga political problem within the framework of the Indian Constitution. They also agreed to surrender their arms and ammunition. They had 'reasonable period' of time for the final settlement but soon the Shillong Accord was condemned and denounced as a sell out by some underground representatives. Some of the underground who were in China started firing the guns to the sky to let the world know that they have not surrendered. After much confusion and tension, finally Isaac Swu, Th. Muivah, S.S Khaplang and their supporters broke away from the original NNC and formed their separate organization called National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in January 1980.Because of the serious disagreement, a lot of the Shilliong Accord people were killed.

In 1988, another serious misunderstanding developed within the NSCN. A parallel NSCN led by Khaplang staged a coup in which approximately 100 NSCN were killed including the deputy General Commander-in-chief, Mr. Ashiho. With this NSCN was split into two NSCN (K) and NSCN (I-M).

In April 1990, Dr. A. Z. Phizo, the father of the Naga Nationalism died in London. Some of his supporter's hastily called a meeting and his daughter Adino was elected as his successor. This improper procedure and undemocratic election had outraged some NNC Naga Army General and their supporters. As a protest, they formed their own separate parallel NNC. Thus, within a decade the Naga political Movement was split into four different factions. With the emergence of the four factions, fights among themselves have become very frequent and a lot of people including non-factional ones have been killed. Several important leaders have also been killed including, Chalie Kevichusa and his brother Tobu Kevichusa, the then NNC General Secretary, Povezo D.Soho, the Brigadier NNC, Komuo Athishu Lt. Colonel and his successor etc. Killings and violence have become so rampant in Nagaland, that the Naga Mothers Association, the Naga Students' Federation, the Naga people's Movement for Human Rights and the Naga Ho-Ho, the apex body etc have made repeated calls for peace, cease-fire and reconciliation.

In 1997, the cease-fire was declared between the NSCN(I-M) and the Govt. of India under the leadership of Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao. The three points were also agreed upon in order to facilitate negotiation between them. They are:
Unconditional Talk

The talks to be held in the third country, and

The talks to be at the highest level
i.e. between the Prime Minister of the two respective parties. So far several negotiations have been held right from the Prime Ministers, Narasimha Rao, Dev Gowda, I. K. Gujral and Atal Behari Vajpai with the NSCN Prime Minister Th. Muivah in different countries. But nothing substantial has resulted from the negotiations. From May 31st to2nd June 1999, NSCN(I-M) called unique consultative General-Body-Meeting in Nuiland, Dimapur. (Which I personally attended). After a long free frank debate and discussion many expressions of both satisfaction dissatisfaction with the cadre and the conduct of the militancy, the Naga General Body recommended and resolved that the dialogue for peace and final settlement of the Naga Political problem between the Govt. of India and the NSCN (I-M) should continue.

From the above, account, it is abundantly clear that there were two parallel struggles throughout the history of the political movement. On the one hand, there is the struggle for the Naga sovereignty directed against the Indian Government. On the other hand, there is equally powerful struggle within the movement for leadership and power. However, the real political question or the central question of politics among the Nagas is the question of the empowerment of the people. By empowerment of the people, I mean to create those conditions in which people can help themselves or improve their lives in freedom, sharing and cooperation and not living in fear, competitive destruction and extremely isolated individualistic pursuit of self-interest. In order to bring this about, the role of democracy, especially in its aspect of the freedom of expression and the impersonal rule of law cannot be undermined. The best way human kind has realised so far, the empowerment of the people is through democratic set up of the kind the various developed countries have instituted in their states governed by the "Rule of Law" enshrined in secular democratic constitutions. And this question is precisely what is not being addressed by the so called 'freedom movement' programme of the Nagas. The movement is already badly split and fragmented over the last 31(thirty one) years i.e., since 1968 with the formation of the 'Revolutionary Government' of Nagaland' led by General Kaito, who was later shot dead at Kohima by fellow Nagas. It seems to me that even if sovereignty is attained through armed struggle or militancy, the same struggle for power will continue internally, even more fiercely. This struggle for power to rule over the people is not concerned with the empowerment of the people. The question of how to empower the people will still be staring in our eyes. In order to start the process of the empowerment of the people; we have to first settle the question of the political status or the statehood of the people peacefully. I suggest, in order to attain this peaceful settlement, a referendum should be conducted to know if the Naga people in the changed circumstances are happy to continue with the Indian citizenship or they still prefer complete sovereignty or some other arrangement. For this to happen all the parties concerned including the four factions plus currently ruling party plus the government of India must agree first to hold the referendum under a neutral authority such as U.N. and secondly they must make a prior commitment to respect the result of the referendum. Such proposal for referendum is in fact asking for no more than what Nehru himself has suggested in the case of Kashmir.

The Nagas have to come out of the conflict within themselves. On the one hand, they are more and more beginning to see both economic and political advantages of being part of the larger constitutional democratic system of India. On the other hand, the hangover of the determination to fight for sovereignty of Naga people continues to lure them into the struggle for independence. This is evidenced by the fact that year after year, more and more Naga youths are joining en-masse in various services of the Government of India, like UPSC, banking, LIC, GIC, defence forces etc. By reverse implication, less and less highly educated Naga youths are joining in the 'freedom struggle'. On the contrary, within the rank and file of the ' underground ' majority are the school/college drop-outs or socially unfits or misfits and other notorious criminal gangsters.

The so called overground Naga politicians are through and through corrupt without the slightest moral scruples. Their only goal seems to be to make as much money as possible by any means. They view politics as a mere money-churning machine and not to serve the people. The result is too obvious for any one to see, like public roads, any public services, cottage industries etc are there but only in name in Nagaland. And this is true also with most of the active participants of the of the 'underground movement' with the few exceptions of the top leaders, which is reflected in the fact that in actual life they do not like to be left behind in the race for accumulation of wealth for themselves individually independently of the cause. Moral degeneration has set in with the break up of the traditional institutions of governing the society. And if the cold war continues for much longer, it will only be harsh and self-destructive for the Naga people generally. It will be extremely difficult for the Nagas to come up as a peaceful democratic, separate, sovereign nation in the future even if this option were available. We can see the inner conflict and serious internal fight within most of the separatist movements going on in India, Burma, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and other parts of the world. This is because the supposed goal of sovereign nationhood is either forgotten or is merely a means for self-promotion. Unfortunately, the latter seems to be true even for the Nagas today.

The volatile persistent problem continues among the Nagas because of the unwillingness of the major advanced tribes to allow equal say to the backward and smaller tribes. This acted as one of the greatest obstacles to the genuine Naga unity and integration. The reluctance of certain tribes to recognize the leadership of other tribes has also acted as one of the obstacles towards unity. Further our society by and large is now being governed by the rule of force and not by the rule of law. The substitution of law for coercion and substitution of humanity for blind tribal or factional allegiance are very essential. The Naga solution leis in providing opportunities for contest that are not conducted by the violent means. This is one of the great merits of modern democracy. It seems to me that unless the modern democratic values and universal human brotherhood are incorporated into cultural ethos, there is every likelihood of the return to barbarism, savagery or the near annihilation, given the history of the internal power struggle of the Nagas.

It is my strong conviction that a good state needs knowledge and skills, kindliness and courage. It does not need a regretful hankering of the past. It needs a true fearless and forward looking outlook and an integrated intelligence. It needs hope for the future, and the hope lies in the evolution of the modern democratic and humanitarian values. By humanitarian values I mean which transcend the limited tribal values pointing towards universal fellowship of all humanity. We should not look back all the time towards the past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create. Yet I am not advocating a total break from the past. It is the attitudes of rational scepticism and scientific outlook towards life and not the suppression of opinions and dissent which is the necessary condition of the emergence of a better, progressive and more harmonious society. It is my belief that by the free use of intelligence and good will unencumbered by any superstitious creed that the just and right solution to the long standing problem of violence within the nagas as well as between the naga community and the Indian union will be solved. When the cohesiveness of a group largely depends upon the support of a foreign element focussed against a real or supposed external enemy, then there is no genuine cohesion within the group. The genuine cohesion is always based on internal bonds which are not only historical or racial but also currently culturally operative. But given the character of Naga groupings it is very doubtful if such genuine bonds are actually operative in the present day situation. This is evidenced by the fact of explosive and volatile conflict between the factions and to a lesser extent in the inter-tribal or inter-village relationship, that exists till today. The germs of division and hostility have been there in our society right from the beginning of the so-called "head-hunting" days. So we have not substantially transcended or out-grown this tribalistic feeling. There are hardly any serious architects of the peace process among the Nagas. What do we envisage for our future? If the Naga are determined to move toward a peaceful and civilized society, then the democratic fight has to replace the destructive military fight among themselves and with others. Until the fear of senseless war among the factions and the devilish greed is removed, it is inevitable that everything in Nagaland or Nagalim should subordinate to short-term efficiency at best, if not widespread chaos and corruption. I believe that a fundamental change in outlook was necessary for the solution of our fratricidal fight. The factional fight persists, in the main, out of the life of impulse, not out of reason. There is an impulse of aggression, and an impulse of violent resistance to aggression. Both are operative in many cases in which they are quite contrary to reason. Each impulse produces a whole package of attendant beliefs. In the history of Naga politics, this attitude is embodied in ethnocentricism. Our social interaction or institutions have come to rest upon injustice, authority and gun power. There are ample incidents of oppressions and unfairnesses in our society today.

Most of us feel helpless when it comes to action for the good of public concerns. The present situation is destructive of our creative and ethical aspiration. All these things are unnecessary and can be ended by wisdom and courage. If they were ended, the impulsive life of our people would become wholly different and the Nagas can travel towards a new happiness and a new vigour. We need to be happier, more civilized and more free, as well as more peaceful. We need to wage a different war against tyrants, criminal leaders, traitors and bigots. The effect of prolonged factional fighting and with the Indian army has been to increase immeasurably all the dangers and destruction which the various non-governmental organizations have been trying to avert. Extermination of many leaders and educated men would bring some vacuum in our society. In view of our long record of folly and cruelty, we need careful planning for the present and future.

Reverting to primitive subsistent economy is no longer acceptable. To bring the Naga situation back to normalcy would require courageous and imaginative statesmanship from all the tribes. Mutual suspicions between factions on the one hand and on the other between factions and Indian army make efforts futile to hope in any near future, for any genuine agreement. Because of the strong prejudice and limited awareness, many Nagas are impervious to rational argument and debate. So long as the opposition between various factions remains as fierce as it is at present, we have the danger of military tyranny as Nagaland is already highly militarized. Although hatred of foreign nations and outsiders promotes social cohesion more easily perhaps than anything else, yet such attitude is inhuman and the resulting social cohesion is superficial and temporary. We have not attempted constructive and creative means of resolving many kinds of conflicts because we Nagas lack passion for perfection and the desire for excellence. Thus collective inspiration has not dawned upon our people. It is high time therefore, that the Naga elite should sit together and reflect seriously upon the new emerging environment both in Government of India side and on the other side of Naga freedom movement. There should evolve a consensus between the Nagas concerning how to end the conflict and pave the way for a peaceful democratic atmosphere for the progress of the Naga people as a whole.

Articles and contributions made by others does not reflect the stand of the Developers and the Designers.
Developed By Mr. B Koheni Moses.