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Nagaland: Post Accord, a Revolt Rises East of the Sun

Deprived of development for way too long, a faction in Nagaland is seeking a separate ‘Frontier Nagaland’. Read here.

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
The Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO) is no longer a part of the Naga Hoho since 1997.  (Photo: Reuters)

At 16, 579 sq km, Nagaland is not a big state –India’s fourth smallest after Goa, Sikkim and Tripura. But a political revolt could whittle its borders down further.

On September 10, a delegation from the state’s eastern region held its first formal talks with the home ministry in New Delhi.

Reason: They want a separate homeland, a new state called ‘Frontier Nagaland’, independent of the parent state.

About six backward tribes live here: Konyak, Chang, Sangtam, Khiamniungan, Yimchunger and Phom. They occupy 36% of contiguous land – 6,014 sq km – within the state.

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Snapshot

Re-Claiming Their Land

  • Nagaland is India’s fourth smallest state but a political revolt could whittle its borders down further
  • The Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO), the political group spearheading the movement, first raised the statehood demand in 2010
  • Eastern Nagas – who number 5.7 lakh, 29% of the state’s population want a fair share of the development pie - jobs, healthcare, education.
  • Today’s Eastern Naga region, came to be called “excluded” while Naga hills was “partially excluded” under the Assam administration
  • It is the timing of the talks -- five weeks after New Delhi signed a peace accord with the dominant faction of NSCN(IM) that is critical

Demand for Statehood

The Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO), the political group spearheading the movement, first raised the statehood demand in 2010, but public rallies and meetings have been on for even longer, to reverse what it calls decades of discrimination in education and employment by “advanced” Naga tribes.

Today, they call themselves ‘Eastern Nagas’, a political identity acquired in recent years to display their uniqueness from other Nagas.

“Our demand is valid under the Indian Constitution. It’s our democratic right,” Shiao Khoiwang Wangsa, ENPO’s president, told The Quint.

Expectedly, on returning to Nagaland, this group faced a cold reception. Kohima has opposed the move. But so have others, fearful that a ‘cohesive’ Naga identity could be fractured.

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(Photo: Reuters)
(Photo: Reuters)

Plight of the Eastern Nagas

But the Eastern Nagas – who number 5.7 lakh, 29% of the state’s population – see it differently. They want a fair share of the development pie -- jobs, healthcare, education. They also want the 25% jobs reserved especially for them, but now filled from the back door to benefit “advanced people,” they say.

Some complaints ring true. For example in 2010, Mokokchong, a western district close to the Assam plains had 15 schools for a population of 2.7 lakh. Tuensang further east, with 2.5 lakh people, had only 9.

The plight of the Eastern Nagas has partly to do with geographical remoteness, with a distinctive history of its own.

There’s another peculiarity: The Eastern Naga region is one of the few places in the country to hold democratic elections as late as 1974.

In the early part of 20th century, it was known as the ‘backward tract’, later renamed North-Eastern Frontier Tract, along with present day Arunachal Pradesh. It remained vastly ungoverned, except for occasional British expeditions against headhunting raiders or settling village disputes.

After 1936, when British India and British Burma (Myanmar) were split, the status of this frontier outpost straddling the two countries got confusing.

‘Excluded’ Region

Today’s Eastern Naga region, then known as Naga Tribal Area, and Naga Hills were classified as ‘excluded areas’, others ‘partially excluded’ – where the tribal population was “less homogenous”, under the Assam administration.

British MPs scratched their heads, demanding explanation of these nomenclatures to protect 50% of the population -- men of “primitive simplicity” – across India.

After 1950, under Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, the administration of Naga Tribal Area (later renamed Tuensang) and the Naga hills district remained separate – and only in 1957 was a single unit created under Assam.

Tuensang became the bargaining chip during the first Naga peace negotiations when moderates within the Naga National Council demanded its inclusion in the new state of Nagaland, which they got under Article 371. This act guarantees special rights to states, from Nagaland to Andhra Pradesh.

Oddly, even after its merger with Nagaland, Tuensang was run from a distance for the next 10 years – with the Assam Governor as its head, assisted by a toothless Tribal Revenue Council (TRC) composed of these backward tribes.

This was disastrous. “We chalked out development plans, but we had no funds. We remained backward,” says Chingwang Konyak, who was TRC minister in the early 70s.

When newly independent India held its first general elections in 1952, democracy had to wait in insurgency-torn Naga Hills.

It missed the 1952 elections, then in 1957, again in 1962.

It was only in 1964, after Nagaland was created, that assembly polls were held there. But Tuensang had to wait yet another long decade for democracy, when it formally became part of Nagaland.

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(Photo: Reuters)
(Photo: Reuters)

The Hoho Plan

Today, ENPO is staking a claim on its unique history: Its people were never part of the Naga Hills.

It is the timing of the talks -- five weeks after New Delhi signed a peace accord with the dominant faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland led by Isak Chisi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah – that is critical.

Muivah has been demanding merger of “Naga-inhabited” areas of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh with Nagaland to create a territorially bigger ‘Nagalim’ -- places where also non-Nagas have lived for centuries.

Post accord, at a resort near Dimapur, the NSCN leader told an audience that “geographical location” is preventing the merger plan. “We can’t expect cent per cent during a negotiation,” he said. In its place, the government has agreed to his proposal for a ‘Pan Naga Hoho’, a statutory body to govern these areas. The Naga Hoho, set up in 1994, already exercises control over two dozen Naga tribes across states.

But ENPO cannot be part of any Hoho plan.

In 1997, Eastern Nagas walked out of Naga Hoho, and formed ENPO as a parallel answer, even though they support the peace talk process. Today, it has several organisations that operate independent of mainstream Naga counterparts, and vice versa. When Naga Mother’s Association (NMA) recently sent a peace mission to meet a separatist group in Myanmar, the Eastern Naga women were “not invited.”

ENPO is now hoping to get a boost from the BJP government at the Centre, banking on a promise made by one of its leaders, Cabinet minister for Roads and Shipping, Nitin Gadkari.

In 2012, while campaigning for his party in Nagaland, Gadkari had “promised” to look into ENPO’s demand when his party came to power.

New Delhi has signed an accord to win one side. Now, it must listen to others to bring peace in the region.

(Maitreyee Handique writes on India’s northeast and keeps a watch on labour, industrial safety and human rights issues)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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