By Oken Jeet Sandham
Decades old Naga political movement has a lot to tell tale. Basically, the Naga political movement was for the Nagas to live as a “free nation” but it became complicated when the British left India without settling many problems including Nagas. In fact, they have created a political mess in whole of the Indian sub-continent. As such what we are seeing today is not the Indian creation but the British.
In spite of all these, the Naga leaders of Naga National Council (NNC) started engaging in series of discussions with leaders of India prior to the British’s transferring of power to them, expressing their clear conscience of living as a free nation. After knowing that whatever discussion on the matter would not fructify, the NNC leaders went ahead to declare Naga Independence on August 14, 1947, one day ahead of Indian Independence on August 15, 1947. This is the turning point in the history of Naga political struggle.
To strengthen their movement and reaffirmation of Independence, NNC had conducted “national Plebiscite” on May 16, 1951. They said 99.9 percent of Nagas voted in favor of “a sovereign Nagaland.” With this mandate, the NNC adopted the Constitution of Nagaland on March 22, 1952.
This “extraordinary” development raised the specter of huge trust deficit between the Government of India and the NNC. In the meantime, NNC continued their vigorous campaign consolidating their position but things were not that bad till such time when Delhi took a decision to crush the surging Naga movement with their military might.
To give extra ordinary power to the security forces fighting against the Naga underground people, Delhi, for the first tem, brought out the “Armed Forces Special Power Act, 1958.” It has become one of the most controversial Acts today in the country – drawing flaks from around the world. Nagaland was like a laboratory theatre for the Indian army to experiment the new “Act.”
Imagine, the hell bent in the 50s, 60s, 70s when so-called educated Nagas had hardly realized the nature of the Act. Only after decades, people started raising the specter of it.
Strangely, it took Delhi 42 years to declare the Naga issue as “political.” It was Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao who while visiting Nagaland in 1989 had declared that the “Naga issue is political,” and “it needs political solution.”
When Manipur went into flames after Assam Riles jawans allegedly raped and murdered Th Manorama, Indian Army General commented that the Army was not the solution to the issue but the political approach. The Army took 57 years of the futility of using their forces against region’s insurgency problems.
People may say many things of the Naga political struggle today but if one looks back at the 50s, it is simply horrible. I had interacted with many Naga elders in many villages. Their stories were all the same. The Naga people had suffered enough at the hands of the Indian army. Indian army had burnt down many Naga villages, granaries, raped many Naga ladies, tortured numerous males, killed many, etc. Most of the boys in the 50s could not go to schools for fear of being beaten or arrested by India army, while males including teenage boys had to take shelter in jungles for days, weeks, months. Some were starved to death. All these horrendous acts were perpetrated on the innocent Naga villagers in the name of fighting Naga underground people. And the Nagas underwent all these unwanted just because they wanted to live as a free nation.
By then, most of the NNC leaders went “underground” as they were hunted down by the Indian army and in fact, one of the most charismatic Naga leaders, AZ Phizo, he himself had to flee to London. It is unfortunate that though the British knew very well, they did not help find solution to the problem they had created. They did not object Phizo taking shelter in Britain either. It’s a mockery at the way the British played with the Nagas.
These are untold stories of the Nagas because in those early days, no pressmen, no outsiders (read foreigners), no communication facilities were there. The Nagas did not know such importance either. It is only after mid 90s or say, after Delhi’s ceasefire with NSCN (IM) in 1997, the importance of mass media came in Nagaland.
There were various occasions where many Naga leaders both overground and underground tried to solve the Naga political problem. Overgound Naga leaders initiated process and even contacted Phizo at London. We have seen series of correspondences between many state politicians including Dr SC Jamir and Phizo.
The emergence of Naga People’s Convention (NPC) had changed the course of Naga history as they were responsible for the birth of a full-fledged statehood of Nagaland in 1963. In the following year in 1964, ceasefire was declared between the Government of India and the Federal Government of Nagaland (FGN) through the initiative of NBCC. Subsequently, they were engaged in political talks for finding settlement to the problem. The talks collapsed after six rounds. The problem remained and became more compounded as there were Naga leaders who ran the affairs of the Indian state of Nagaland needing to defend the “Sovereignty and Unity of India.” The Naga underground people became more aggressive needing to fight against their own people on the one hand and Indian army on the other. The political process became trickier and riskier. Assassination of Naga leaders started, so also many abortive assassination attempts on Naga politicians. The Naga underground leaders and the Naga overground people were at loggerheads over the Naga issue.
Then the Shillong Accord came in 1975. This Accord had done maximum damage to the NNC. The immediate fallout of this Accord could be seen by the formation of another Naga underground group – The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in 1980. After about a decade, the NSCN was split into two in 1988—one headed by Isak Chishi Swu and Th Muivah and the other by SS Khaplang and Dally Mungro. Following the split, hundreds of Naga underground cadres and high functionaries including Dally Mungro lost their precious lives due to factionalism. Sadly, it went on in large scale even after the Government of India’s ceasefires with NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K). This had led many intellectuals and intelligentsias to questioning the rationality of the ceasefires with the Government of India. Some poised questions as to why Naga underground groups could not cease fighting amongst them when they could with Indian security forces, while wondering on New Delhi’s remaining as mute spectator allowing factions to go free for all. This is where mass based Naga civil societies came in to intervene.
Even after present DAN Government came into power, they set up committees to facilitate unity and reconciliation amongst the factions. In its second tenure, the DAN government constituted Political Affairs Committee (PAC). Its members had extensively travelled and met leaders of various factions. They discussed the exigency of having unity and reconciliation amongst them. But everything seemed quite smooth till such time when the PAC mooted the idea of having a “Naga Common Platform.” Members for Naga Common Platform would be drawn up from different political parties, NGOs, representatives from all the tribal hohos, veteran Naga politicians in the likes of Dr SC Jamir, Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, RC Chiten Jamir, etc. The basic premise of such arrangement is to evolve a consensus or majority opinion of the Naga people towards ongoing talks with New Delhi. With such mandate endorsed, the Naga underground leaders could talk with New Delhi.
Unfortunately, the formation of Naga Common Platform did not materialize and the emergence of Joint Legislators Working Group (JLWG) has actually overtaken the role of PAC. Thereby the role of PAC carried no weight at this juncture and it appears to be only duplication.
On the other hand, Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR) also came into being in 2008 with renowned priest Rev Wati Aier as Convener. Since then, they had initiated series of programs for leaders of various Naga underground groups to meet and share about their feelings of love and affection and understanding.
They avoided touchy words and issues but primarily concentrated on “reconciliation” so far. They could succeed in breaking ice and further strengthen the journey of common hope. Who believed that members of NSCN factions would agree to meet each other and form a combined team to play soccer against combined team of different Naga NGOs. But the idea worked at last. It is a fantastic idea. Now the ball started rolling and gradually the ghost of fear of meeting one another has drastically reduced.
These successive positive developments could pave way for the top leaders of NSCNs and NNC/FGN to come and attend the “Highest Level Meeting” of leaders of Naga underground groups.
The FNR has come a long way since its birth with a mission.
Their “Highest Level Meeting” for top leaders of the NSCN (IM), NSCN (K) and NNC/FGN is “landmark.” One should give credit to the FNR and other agencies working tirelessly to make the event a success. NSCN (IM) general secretary Th Muivah, NSCN(K) general secretary N Kitovi Zhimomi and NNC/FGN president S Singnya along with their senior kilonsers (ministers) came to attend the historic “Highest Level Meeting” – they called it “September Naga Summit” – on September 18 at Dimapur would go down in the annals of Naga political history. The three leaders had inked “Covenant of Reconciliation,” committing to working out their differences as outlined in it (Covenant of Reconciliation).
This would end the most unwanted factional killings and begin a new chapter in the history towards strengthening the Naga Reconciliation.