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Nagas in arms: a new face of the region

The games are over and Delhi will get back to its ways; traffic jams will endure, people will urinate on the walls of the new stadiums – an expression of relief, of lack of facilities and also contempt for the organizers for the games – and the posters, banners and paint, like public memory, will fade.

The bandicoots having fattened themselves, in their suits, dark glasses and tinted glass SUVs, will pass on some to the loot to the Party; and life will go on – or will it? Some things, hopefully, will be different: such as Dilliwalahs seeing Naga women and men, smartly uniformed and carrying automatic weapons with casual ease, guarding key places without bothering about the curious looks they draw.

The Nagas were the first to challenge the idea of India and faced the wrath and violence of the Indian State for decades. Yet, for the first time, some Nagas have been publicly seen defending that very idea in the heart of Delhi.

“They are not afraid of anything, they are really tough and (Home Minister P) Chidambaram brought them because he does not trust the Delhi police,” said a taxi driver on the journey home from the airport. The driver was from Garhwal but his contempt for the Delhi Police and palpable pride in the Nagas was obvious.

This turn around cannot be stressed enough: but it would be foolish to assume that all Nagas buy into the “Indian” concept. That would be expecting too much and the fact that the negotiations between the pro-independence group, the National Socialist Council of Nagalim, and New Delhi are continuing (with the Naga negotiators unchanged and the Indian side undergoing several changes, both in Government and Interlocutor) for 14 years is a clear indication of this.

Yet, the presence of the Naga police is significant—it should help us understand that the face of the North-east in metros is not just students and those in the hospitality and tourism industry (put crudely, hotel and restaurant waiters, beauty parlours and flight crews) as well as staff in BPOs (because their spoken English is often better than that of many other Indians). A professional profile is also growing, although a Naga police force in Delhi may be unexpected!

While in some ways assuring, the sight is one that also causes concern: what is also reflected here is a medium-term impact of the militarization of the region, a conflict zone for over 50 years, where people choose jobs in a profession that represents the power of the State, to uphold “law and order” because they are assured of regular salaries and meeting family needs. As I have remarked earlier, this and the service industry and BPO phenomenon with young North-east men and women filling gaps will continue for some time.

This group represents the first generation of graduates and post-graduates who have left their home states in substantial numbers to create a life for themselves away from the violence inflicted on their lands and societies. But give it a few more years and education will provide the edge: there will be more academics, professionals (lawyers, doctors etc.), airline pilots, restaurateurs, innovators, top officials at the national level (there already are a few such as former Chief Election Commissioner JM Lyngdoh, former BSF chief and current Meghalaya Governor RS Mushahary and current Election Commissioner Hari Shankar Brahma) and more.

This is how the face of the region will change. In addition, security-related events in the past months are shoring that up: almost the entire leadership of the major Assam insurgent group, United Liberation Front of Asom – barring one — have either surrendered or have been captured and handed over to Indian forces by Bangladeshi officers; the Assam government is not opposing the bail requests of three key leaders, enabling them to meet their families in liberty (with heavy security escort as a threat is perceived from the anti-talks faction) and begin formal talks with Delhi.

In addition, the head of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland is in prison. In the past days, it has been reported (not officially confirmed) that the latest to fall into the Bangladesh-India trap is the head of the die-hard United National Liberation Front, “Sanayama” or Raj Kumar Meghen and a member of Manipur’s royal family. Meghen has been a redoubtable spokesman for Manipur’s independence who at one time controlled “liberated zones” in that state.

By Sanjoy Hazarika on North by North-east

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