“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”
— Charles Dickens in Tale of Two Cities
“Beware of the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind. And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry, [who] infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader and gladly so. How will I know? For this I have done. And I am Julius Caesar”.
— William Shakespeare in Julius Caesar
“It is not revolutions and upheavals
That clears the road to new and better days,
But revelations, lavishness and ferments
Of someone’s soul, inspired and ablaze.”
— Boris Pasternak
Many Nagas have been complaining that despite so many years of Cease-fire, no solution has come so far. Indeed, many years of negotiations without solution in sight is not what one would normally expect. From that perspective, it is disappointing, even tragic.
To this has now been added the tragic events at Mao Gate, a few days ago, creating further doubts and apprehensions on both sides of the Nagaland-Manipur border. Both sides also have “rights” as per their perspectives. What is even more tragic is that one feels the incident/s at Mao Gate was/were unnecessary.
What one has noted with some surprise were Manipur Chief Minister Ibobi’s initial defiance and rejection of summons to Delhi (although he finally went) and Home Minister’s sudden declaration, after more than a week of the incident at Mao Gate, that GoI had not given permission to Mr Muivah to visit his ancestral village of Somdal. Why was the Home Ministry keeping silent all this time when the NSCN-IM was insisting that permission was granted? One begins to get the feeling that either something somewhere went very wrong or there was a political collusion somewhere!
One was glad, from newspaper reports, that Naga bodies invited AMUCO (and other Manipuri organizations?) for a people-to-people meeting – One only wished the Naga bodies had continued to remain dignified without their later ominous statement that, as a consequence of AMUCO not accepting their offer for meeting, Nagas will not be responsible for future incidents (to Manipur/is?!), if any. One is also saddened that AMUCO, again from newspaper reports, did not avail the opportunity for face to face meeting so that understanding between Nagas and Manipuris is restored despite the possible presence of politics on both sides!
The real tragedy is that, in Naga-Meitei relations, what could have been a win-win situation seems to be turning out to be a lose-lose situation! The important thing now is to bring down the temperatures on both sides of the border. After the dust and din of what is happening now has settled down, we must remember that we will continue to be neighbours still! The issue will remain, “who will pick up the pieces?!” Breaking things is not as difficult as trying to repair and restore. Statesmanship, not political gamesmanship, on both Nagaland-Manipur sides is required as well as from Delhi.
Nagas also need to reflect why things are not moving forward as quickly as they expect.
What are the key issues to finding a permanent or, at least, a durable settlement? It seems to me the following need to be discussed and cleared by Naga Society at large especially the Church circles and the various tribe hohos and Naga frontal organizations etc.
1. The first issue, naturally, is about Naga Sovereignty. Government of India, from media reports, has made clear that this is out of the question. How to resolve this issue? Nagas need to decide what they are prepared for and how far they will go to resolve this issue once and for all.
2. The vast majority of Nagas know that without being inclusive, no settlement is possible. The onus lies with society at large but also with NSCN-IM as they are in negotiation with Government of India and, it seems, they still do not want to include other Naga factions in the negotiations.
3. The other factions/groups ought to be ready to make concessions and give NSCN-IM due recognition – if only because the NSCN-IM has brought the negotiations to present stage – as and when the latter is ready to include other groups.
4. Not just the various factions but also the various State political parties as well as the tribe hohos must be taken into confidence and their views considered with due respect. And this must be done in a transparent manner, by allowing all tribes to freely choose their own representatives. No tribe, however small, can be ignored or left out as we are talking about collective Naga future. The rehabilitation of Germany into the European Community was made possible by people like Irene Laure, with no official position. She said how can there be a united Europe without Germany – her own family members were killed by Nazi Germany and she herself was a Socialist and a French Resistance fighter. Similarly, can there be Nagahood without some Nagas?!
5. One of the biggest hurdles is going to be the NSCN-IM’s demand for integration of Naga inhabited areas. In 2001, during the Naga Goodwill Visit to Assam, we discovered that the Assamese people were open to discussion on any topic. Following that visit the agitation in Manipur, in the wake of extension of Ceasefire to all Naga inhabited areas, not only collapsed, but the Meiteis wanted to talk with the Naga people. Also all the MLAs and MPs from Changlang and Tirap districts of Arunachal Pradesh came to Dimapur to show solidarity with their Naga brethren in Nagaland and said “we are all one family”. Much seems to have changed between 2001 and now.
Naga history seems to have been made up of a series of missed opportunities. I am listing a few here. Others will know more. To my mind, the refusal of our people to accept the Crown Colony concept, in pre-Indian Independence era, was a great folly. It may or may not have worked out but, but from what one has learnt, it was not given a chance.
The second great mistake was the emotional and hot-tempered reaction to the visit by Nehru and U Nuh to Kohima in 1953. This was a great opportunity for resolving the Naga Issue which has become so complicated today because of the trans-border nature. The two leaders, at that point of time, could have resolved the Issue without too much difficulty. Again, one doesn’t know if the two leaders would have actually solved the Naga Issue but it did not get a chance as Naga leaders preferred to be more angry with the then Deputy Commissioner of Naga Hills than recognize the great opportunity before them.
The Ceasefire of 1964 and the talks held for several years was another great opportunity. Nagaland was then under the External Affairs Ministry, a position even J & K did not have, and this guaranteed a special position for Nagaland and Nagas. Talks were also held with Ministry of External Affairs, not Home Ministry. But official posturings seemed to have been more important than practical politics. Naga negotiators only seemed to have wanted to stick to their “rights” and were not willing to consider India’s possible difficulties, however seemingly morally wrong. The result was that Nagas lost out and Nagaland was also unceremoniously transferred to Ministry of Home Affairs in 1972, after eight years of negotiations. Protests did not alter the fact and Nagas today have had to accept the fact of being under MHA like anyone else in India!
Despite all the controversies surrounding the Shillong Accord of 1975, this was another opportunity. It freed so many Naga Army soldiers and it was initially welcomed across the Naga areas. That the signatories may have signed the Accord “under duress” is an issue that cannot be helped. What could be helped was that the signatories could have dissociated themselves from the Accord once they realized that majority of Nagas no longer supported the Accord. Such action on their part could have re-united the Nagas. They failed and the consequence has been so many lives lost and various factions today. The Shillong Accord may be gathering dust now but the factions are still very actively fighting each other and our people are bearing the burden.
Today, the two NSCNs are powerful and hold sway over most of the Naga areas. They are a consequence of the reaction to the NNC/NFG and the Shillong Accord. Could the NNC/NFG acknowledge that it had been wrong in not being sufficiently inclusive in the past and could the NSCNs, for the sake of the Naga people, adopt an inclusive attitude in the negotiations. All of the factions will, no doubt, have their own views – and very strongly too! – but they all must also know that Government of India will not have piece-meal agreements with anyone faction if it feels the agreement, when it comes, cannot finally resolve the Naga Issue.
Today, one thinks, there is another great opportunity for Nagas because of the convergence of three good people on the Indian Government side – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Home Secretary G K Pillai and R S Pandey who has already shown his love for the Nagas. I am sure there are others who are equally good although I have not met them personally and am, therefore, reluctant to make comment. The Opposition parties too are not offering difficulties. All these seem to suggest this may be a great time to work out a resolution of this long standing Naga Issue.
One hopes and prays that something final, and workable, will emerge before too long because without this Naga children will have no future or a clouded future! The above comments are mostly hindsight which is always easier than when one is facing the situation as is. But it seems it is high time to put a stop to the litany of missed opportunities that Naga history seems to have been made of till now.
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Senior independent Naga researcher and writer
(Published in Eastern Mirror and Morung Express on May 19, 2010; Imphal Free Press, May 20, 2010)