The Naga insurgent movement has completed more than seven decades, and the peace talks initiated to reconcile the differences between the rebel Naga groups and the Government of India have themselves been in existence for over a period of more than two decades — but solutions continue to evade.
The latest deadline by which the Centre is expected to wrap up the talks was 31 October 2019. The date has come and gone, while the problem lingers. In this context, it becomes important to emphasize upon the historical developments and the specific socio-cultural situations in which the problem has progressed over the years, and gained mammoth proportions.
How the Nagas Came into Contact With the Rest of India
The Naga people are a conglomeration of various ethnic tribal groups inhabiting the North-Eastern parts of India (in the state of present day Nagaland, and parts of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur) and North-Western Myanmar. They were generally cut-off from the social and political developments in the rest of India, and existed in complete solitude, until the coming of the British colonisers. Lured by the immense natural wealth of the region, the Britishers started exploring the Naga territories, and it is through them that the Nagas were for the first time exposed to the outside world.
In 1881, the Naga hills became a part of India. American missionaries had been active in the region since the 19th century, and gradually, a large part of the population accepted Christianity.
Through them, and also by serving in the British Army for the allied forces in Europe during World War-I, the Nagas were exposed to modern western education, philosophies and ideas.
Detached from mainland India, the majority of the Nagas didn't consider themselves to be a part of it. With the strengthening of the national movement, the Nagas became concerned about their future. They wanted to ensure their own independence outside the proposed Indian Union. Hence, a deputation presented a memorandum in this regard in front of the Simon Commission, when it came to India in 1928.
Bringing Together All Naga-Dominated Areas Under a Single Territorial Unit
By the year 1946, it had become quite clear that India was soon going to achieve independence. Concerned with these developments, a group of middle-class, English-educated Naga intellectuals came together to form a group — the Naga National Council (NNC) — which was a reorganised form of the earlier existing Naga Club. They also began publishing a journal, ‘Naga Nation’. This was the beginning of the Naga problem.
Soon, the council got divided on the question of independence and self-determination.
The more radical faction led by ‘Angami Nagas’ argued for complete independence outside the proposed Indian Union, while the other faction of moderates led by ‘Aos Nagas’ were ready to be a part of the Indian Union, provided that their traditions and customs were duly respected. The latter faction met with the Congress leaders, and after being satisfied with their attitude, pledged its allegiance towards India. The radicals however, were still demanding complete independence under the leadership of a charismatic Angami leader — ‘Zapu Phizo’.
After extensive discussions between the Naga groups and the Congress, a nine-point agreement (Akbar Hydari agreement) was prepared in June 1946.
It ensured that the Nagas had autonomy, but within the limits of the Indian Constitution. NNC rejected the agreement and demanded the creation of ‘Nagalim’ — greater Nagaland — which proposed to bring together all the Naga-dominated areas within a single territorial unit. To mark their resistance, they declared their independence on 14 August 1947.
What Soiled India’s Name Among Naga People?
Post-independence and with the creation of the Indian state, attempts were made by the government to regularise affairs in the Naga-dominated areas. However, certain unsavoury statements made by top government officials of Assam province (Naga-dominated areas during that time came under Assam) further aggravated the precarious situation. Through 1951, Phizo and his men carried out a referendum of sorts to validate their point, and later claimed that 99.99 percent voted for complete Naga independence. Attempts were made from both the sides to find a mutually agreeable solution.
PM Nehru visited the region in 1952 along with the Burmese PM, but none of these endeavours bore any fruit.
Under Phizo, the rebel Nagas declared war against the Indian Union and formed a Naga Federal Government (NFG) and a Naga Federal Army (NFA). They also strengthened their set up in the neighbouring countries of Burma and East Pakistan, and carried out ambush attacks on various army officials, and even on those people who sided with the government. In the face of a crackdown, they reverted to jungles and other foreign countries. In response, the army retaliated with equal severity, and after being armed with the controversial AFSPA (1958), instances of excesses and misuse of powers by the army skyrocketed further.
This soiled India's name among the common Naga population.
What Strengthened Naga Faith in Indian Democracy?
Even the tactical advantage that India had earned due to the killing of T Sakhire (a popular moderate leader) by the rebels, was diluted by the murder of T Harulu (the first allopathic surgeon of Nagaland) by the army. Certain reconciliation attempts were made by the moderate Naga People's Convention (constituted in 1957). It demanded for the creation of a separate state for the Nagas.
The proposal was accepted, and the new state of Nagaland came into existence in 1963.
Another attempt was made by a Baptist peace mission in 1964, which led to a ceasefire between the Indian Union and the representatives of the Naga Federal Government. The situations became better in the 1970s through many friendly exchanges. PM Indira Gandhi visited Kohima in December 1973. The loss of East Pakistan (with the creation of Bangladesh) — a stronghold for the rebel groups — also acted as a deterrent. The Government of India was also able to sign the ‘Shillong Accord’ (1975) with the moderate factions, following which, many rebels surrendered before the armed forces, and the faith of the Nagas in the Indian democracy strengthened.
No Hope for Peace?
With the beginning of the 1980s, hostilities between both the parties recommenced. By now, a new generation of leaders had emerged, most important among them being Isak Swu and T Muivah. They set up the ‘Naga Socialist Council’ (NSCN) in Myanmar in 1980, and even tried to enlist Chinese help to finance their cause, something which Phizo had resisted till then. The NSCN further got split into a number of factions, most important among which were the NSCN Issac Muviah (NSCN IM) and NSCN Khaplang (NSCN K).
Along with Nagaland and Myanmar, the Naga rebels also became a source of concern for their activities in Manipur, where they fought for the cause of their brethren residing in the hilly regions, against the ‘Meiti’ Hindus of the plains. The struggle continued into the 1990s.
In the mid-1990s, a collective of Church groups and civil society organisations, called Naga HoHo’, was formed. It persuaded the government and the rebels to declare a ceasefire. In 1997, NSCN IM and in 2001, NSCN K, signed a ceasefire with the government. Talks have been taking place between the rebel groups such as NSCN IM and various other small rebel groups under the banner of ‘Naga National Political groups’ (NSCN K has stayed away from peace talks) and the government since then, but without any conclusive result till now.
(Sambhrant Shukla is a Research Scholar (NET-JRF) at University of Allahabad. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed in this article are that of the writer’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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