By Raj Singh
The reformative vision and philosophy of Prime Minister Modi ushered a new era of change in India which has been welcomed as “Modi-fication”. His fresh attempt to understand India’s north-east and his actions to solve its chronic socio-political and economic problems have a whiff of sincerity. The shared sovereignty he reportedly promised to Nagaland in the “framework agreement” signed on August 03, 2015 may be a new modality to replace the repressive measures India has so long been deploying in the region to subdue nationalistic ambitions.
It is true that the British left an unfinished job of deciding the fate of many weak nations/principalities in the north-east India under their suzerainty when they left India in 1947. The tribal territories of the Nagas, Mizos, Kukis and Khasi etc. they won during various expeditions during the nineteenth century were left as autonomous districts of the province of Assam. The Kingdoms of Assam, Tripura and Manipur were merged with the new India while kingdom of Sikkim was allowed to opt out to remain independent. Many cases of the merger especially that of Manipur allegedly were expedited against the will of the people.
Around the same time in 1944, the small Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia were forcibly put under the Soviet Union led by the big and powerful Russia. With these, seven other smaller states in Central Asia and East European region of Soviet Union remained unhappy in the union for four decades as they were subjugated by the powerful Russia. These states became free in 1991 when Gorbachev experimented a large scale socio-political reformation called, “Perestroika”.
When the small states asked for restoration of their pre-merger nationhood as a rightful demand, Russia, instead of repressive measures proposed an instrument of regional organization called, “Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)” to benefit the dissociated states and an agreement, “Alma-Ata Protocol” was signed. The results in the after years were – diffusion of ethnic tensions, collective economic progress in the segregated states and the ending of the dangerous cold war between the Soviet bloc and the Western Nations.
In the game of geo-politics, powerful nations always remain watchful of socio-political weak points in others’ territories for a chance to covertly intervene and destabilize the adversary. The insurgency infested north-east may be India’s Achilles’ heel in the eyes of other countries. What entails therefore is that the insurgency in India’s north-east needs to be ended to protect India from the evil eyes of geopolitical players.
India will gain a lot from peaceful solutions of the insurgency in the north-east by fulfilling their political aspirations. It can stop the huge resource and reputation drain in excessively militarizing the north-east to fight insurgents in the difficult hill terrains. It can save its international image by repealing the notorious Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) and avoiding the numerous charges of human rights violations and extra-judicial killings in army action. It can establish its image as a world leader in the advocacy of special provisions for weaker ethnic groups and indigenous populations that are suffering in the hands of stronger groups in many parts of the world.
The newly segregated small nations with shared sovereignty in India’s north-east will also get a new leash of life with progress in all fronts concomitant with identity-associated dignity, increased sense of responsibility, self-reliance, peace and unity. Six decades of India’s rule with negligence, indifference, marginalization and repression has been blamed for various social malaise like serious loss of work culture, rampant corruption, parochialism and ethnic disharmony, economic backwardness and ecological degradation in the region. They need to be freed from these malaise. As free nations with shared sovereignty with India, these nations will provide an excellent buffer zone of protection to India’s frontier.
Granting “shared sovereignty” to Nagaland by acknowledging the “Uniqueness” of the Naga ethnicity makes a lot of sense to all the people of oriental stock inhabiting the north-east. This uniqueness goes primarily along the anthropologic distinction of the north-east as the starting point of oriental habitat that has contiguity with the far-east. It is for the same reason that India respected Bhutan, Nepal and Sikkim (in the beginning) as sovereign countries with special arrangements of sharing responsibilities similar to CIS of Russia and its breakaway small nations.
Granting sovereignty to Nagaland in isolation without a holistic consideration of the insurgency in the north-east will be India’s folly. This will be a stark evidence of India’s myopic vision of dealing with the north-east problems through appeasing the more violent groups. History has recorded how India traded statehood with violent Nagas and Mizos in 1962 and 1986 respectively to buy peace. For consideration of sovereignty as a matter of right, former kingdoms like Sikkim, Tripura, Assam and Manipur logically appear above Nagaland in the priority list. Alfred Lyall (1908), a British civil servant described Manipur as “an oasis of comparative civilization amidst the barbarians”. This was how Manipur stood out historically as a nation in the region with all paraphernalia like – its two millennia old chronicled history, its classical culture, its language with script, its elaborate governments etc.
Perestroika was a vigorous process which needed a visionary leader like Gorbachev and a horde of thinkers to agree with him. Mr. Modi has all the promises of a different genre in Indian politics. He exudes integrity and pragmatism. He will still need an enormous political will to overcome glitches to bring this overhaul. This hope is built on a ‘historic accord” which later on was reduced to a “framework agreement” the contents of which still remain a secret. Nevertheless, we see boldness and spirit in its face value.
The north-east people – the separatist demand groups, the civil society organizations, the think tanks, the social engineers, the political scientists and the politicians, regardless of their creeds will need to prepare a common ground for them to stand together and voice the same demand. This looks a big challenge when we look at the countless competing and conflicting organizations operating in the region. There is also a serious lack of political will and discipline in the region. To cause a Perestroika, the separatist demand if rightful should be voiced also by the regional politicians. There is nothing unconstitutional in a political demand. If they ask for the right thing they will get the thing right for them. The same applies when they ask for the wrong thing. Let prudence guide India and the north-east.