The Naga struggle for sovereignty has been the first and longest of the secessionist-turned-insurgency movements in South Asia which had posed the foremost challenge to the nascent Indian nation-state. At the core of the Naga self assertion was the question of its identity. Nagas defined themselves as a separate nation as opposed to the Indian nation and demanded the right to self determination. When it was not granted to them, they appropriated the politics of secessionism to achieve the goal of Naga nation-state.
What has been done: Early Modes of Negotiations
The early Indian leadership appreciated and empathized with the Naga identity crisis, their fear and apprehension of the tiny tribe amidst the multitude of other Indians. Nehru appreciated the Naga exclusivity as they were excluded from ‘the sensation of being in the Indian national movement’ by the British. In his letter to T Sakhire on August 1, 1946 Nehru tried to allay the fear and apprehensions of the Nagas and envisioned a model which would perfectly suit them. In fact even before the Nagas themselves had visualized the quantum of autonomy, Nehru had promised it to them with a model which subsequently became paradigm of tribal development.
Nehru promised Nagas all the protection even before the Constituent Assembly had discussed the Indian Constitution. Mahatma Gandhi went a step further and said that “Nagas have every right to be independent.” On the question of being forced to join India, Gandhi said, He (Governor of Assam) cannot do that. I will come to the Naga Hills. I will ask them to shoot me first before one Naga is shot.” Gopinath Bordoloi painstakingly incorporated all the principles that Nehru enunciated in constructing that hugely important piece of legislation called the Sixth Schedule which provided protection not only to the Nagas but other tribal as well. Nehru went much ahead, overruled massive opposition and granted statehood to a population of seven lakh not under home ministry as was the law but foreign affair ministry. But with the disappearance of this band of leadership such resilience also disappeared which was responsible for non-resolution of the problems which required different outlook.
Post Nationalist Phase: the disasters
In the second phase we find a series of accords between the Nagas and governments of India. Accords failed because they aimed at pacification not addressing the real problem and whenever it failed it was back to the use of army.
The army operation has disfigured the social fabric of the Naga society and economy. The coercive measures that started in 1953 with the mass arrest of NNC leaders continue to this day. There were draconian laws like the promulgation of Naga Hills Disturbed Area Ordinance and Assam Maintenance of Public Order Act of 1953. The Armed Forces Special Power Act 1958 was promulgated adding muscle to the power of the army. More brute power was added by the legislation of Nagaland Security Regulation Act of 1962 and North East Armed Forces Special Power Act was amended in 1972 to make it more brutal. The result was disastrous. Villages were uprooted and rearranged in the name of ‘grouping’, youths arrested or tortured forcing them to move underground, women targeted, economy destroyed, social life transformed. Prolonged army operation for an astonishingly long period from 1953 till this day is capable of destroying any social fabric which it did. The depression and the consequent alcoholism and drug addiction by generations of Naga youth is a major result of this non-existent socio-cultural life.
What has not been done?
In fact the core issue of identity had never been addressed neither at an academic level or political level. The Indian intellectual in general showed total disdain and apathy to understand and win over the Naga. It has to be premised that Naga identity as was constructed in the 1940’s was based on its primordial principles. In the context of modernity it needed to be modernized. The way despite the existence 370-A, a modern school, college, university, clinic, hospital, electricity, housing, food habit, TV, radio, telephone, mobile and such inventions of modern science and technology were acceptable to the Naga without interfering their tradition and custom, being a constituent of a multi-nationality Indian union was not antithetical to the Naga identity. This idea was not communicated to the Nagas.
Nagaland is in a pathetic state of development. The communication, level of poverty, employment, agriculture, infra structure in Naga Hills is non-existent to say the least. There is no sign of a modern state in Nagaland. Peace and submission to the will Indian state was made a prerequisite to development. It appeared that Nagaland have been punished for demanding autonomy by depriving its development. It is a mystery why peace negotiations and development could not be coeval. How will Nagaland catch up with the sixty years that it lagged behind has to be thought about now?
What should be done?
It is ironical when the rest of India is reaping the benefit of globalization and liberation the lack of basic amenities is an issue in Nagaland. The argument that pre-requisite of development is peace is untenable. Doling out cash money and abdicating responsibility thereafter would be only a continuation of the old policies. Nagaland has to be opened up to South East Asian countries like Myanmar. Chindwin River is not very far. Through it an opening to the Bay of Bengal is a possibility. The social capital of Nagaland has to be nurtured. Nagaland had been granted an Institute of Mass Communication, Centre for Culture etc which are misplaced. What Nagaland needs a Medical College, and Engineering College, regional offices of Sports authority of India and centres of Information Technology. Medical Colleges would improve the abysmal health facilities in the region by training their own manpower. The Engineering College similarly can produce graduates who would have the skill to exploit the huge mineral wealth of the hills. It has been granted a Central University but it has been negligent in appointing its Vice Chancellors. Nagas have produced world class footballers like T AO and Basant Kabui who led Indian football team in the Olympics. Even now individual Naga players are paid players in Bengal Football League. But neither fields nor coaching facilities are available to the Naga youth. It is an established fact that Naga are naturally endowed with special skill in sports like Table Tennis and Badminton but the political climate or the physical amenities are absent to nurture these talents. Promotion of sports culture and amenities is absolutely essential as a part of development package. Nagaland is naturally endowed with geographical features which would allow trekking, rock climbing, river rafting and such adventure sports. Nagaland has the unique monument of War Cemetery where the remains of the European soldiers of the Second World War are preserved. This pilgrimage to this war cemetery should not be confined to only relative of the war victims but general European tourists. Like the Khonoma village more and more model villages should be developed. It would encourage ethno-tourism through which foreign tourist could get a glimpse of traditional Naga life and tradition. Naga handicrafts, ethnic garments and artifacts symbolizing Naga identity can reach world market through the tourists. Army can clear their tarnished name to some extent by adopting village and see their growth and transition to twenty-first century.
The writer is Professor of History, Assam Central University, Silchar