Post Mortem

Naga integration and a way forward

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 12/12/2019 12:24:36 PM IST


The demand for ‘Greater Nagalim’ or integration of Naga areas has been the subject of intense media and public scrutiny, including by our neighbours, who see the prospect to amalgamate Nagas’ lands as some kind of design to disintegrate present state boundaries. 

At the very outset, The Naga Rising would like to acknowledge the fact that the Naga inhabited areas are geographically contiguous wherever they exist—in Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh or Myanmar—and Nagas have been living side by side since time immemorial. 

Land without borders—the unique case of Naga geography

What Nagas are legitimately claiming therefore is for the recognition of this geographical fact, of our lands which had been divided and apportioned under different heads without our proper knowledge or consent. 

Take for instance the Zeliangrong Nagas, spread across Nagaland, Manipur and Assam or the Konyak Nagas of Nagaland who find themselves separated from their brethren in Arunachal Pradesh and in Myanmar.

The point here is that Nagas have been divided by artificial political boundaries, although they inhabit a contiguous geographical area in present-day India and Myanmar. The Naga case, therefore, is not a political rhetoric or an unsubstantiated claim but a fact as evident from geography.

Historical basis to present claims

The claim to unite the contiguous land inhabited by the Nagas has been there, ever since the Naga political question emerged through the pages of history. 

The 6th Clause of the Nine-Point Agreement of 1947 between Akbar Hydari (GoI) and the Nagas (NNC) runs as: “To bring under one unified administrative unit, as far as possible all Nagas. All the areas so included will be within the scope of the present proposed Agreement”.

This has been validated further by the Naga Peoples’ Convention’s (NPC) own agreement with the Government of India, known as the 16-Point Agreement, wherein Clause 13 calls for the “Consolidation of contiguous Naga areas”. The then Naga leaders who were signatories to the agreement expressed the view that “other Nagas inhabiting contiguous areas should be enabled to join the new State” (Nagaland). 

NNC leader AZ Phizo is quoted to have said that ‘Nagaland is one undivided’ homeland and that ‘traditionally our boundary is lying one side Chindwin river, the other side is Brahmaputra, the land lying between these two rivers is our homeland Nagaland’. 

These are some of the premise for the present demand calling for unification of all contiguous Naga inhabited areas. One should therefore understand that there is indeed a consistent stand and validity to what the Nagas have been voicing out i.e. to live together as one people. 

Naga position has been misunderstood

The aspiration of the Naga people to come under a single umbrella is perhaps one of the most misunderstood issues in India and the North-East in particular during the last sixty years. 

At a time when the Indo-Naga peace process is coming to some kind of a political solution, The Naga Rising appeals to our neighbours to understand and honour the peace agreement between the Government of India and the Naga people. 

As the Naga people also understand the sentiments of people in Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, who are desirous to safeguard their territorial boundaries, The Naga Rising calls for an informed dialogue and greater understanding on this particular issue to help work out some formulations acceptable to all.

The Naga Rising encourages dialogue and ideas that contribute towards a meaningful solution. We believe a ‘non-territorial’ or ‘cross-border regional’ model can be worked out that best suits the present reality of the Nagas, their neighbours and the working of Indian federalism. 

Political innovation needed to address Naga ‘integration’ 

Other than the mention of a ‘Pan-Naga Body’ as part of the proposed Naga Peace Accord, not much official details are available on how the issue of ‘Naga integration’ is to be addressed by the Government of India. 

One possible solution, according to former Union Home Secretary, K. Padmanabhaiah, “is the creation of a Naga Regional Council—comprising representatives from all major Naga tribes in the North East—which should be consulted by the concerned state governments on matters relating to the socio-economic development of Naga tribes living in those states”. 

And according to Padmanabhaiah, the former interlocutor for the Naga peace talks between 1999 and 2009, the idea of a Naga Regional Council was suggested to the NSCN (IM) as “a possible solution” to the question of Naga integration. 

Late BG Verghese, a much respected Indian journalist had suggested a non-territorial approach that would strengthen the Naga way of life and would not affect the integrity of other states. He is also reported to have recommended the formation of a ‘Naga Regional Council’ that would have given the Nagas, beyond present Nagaland state, some say in non-political areas like culture and social mores. 

Noted anthropologist B K Roy Burman has gone on to suggest for the Nagas, the creation of an institution modelled on the Saami Council similar to case of the Saami people living in Sweden, Finland, and Norway. Other writers in India have also commented on this ‘non-territorial’ approach to resolve the present demand of the Nagas for some kind of a common platform to administer them.

The idea of a Pan-Naga body is therefore a formulation that has been presented by Delhi ostensibly to give the Nagas something in lieu of redrawing existing State boundaries.

Is it possible that without disturbing existing State boundaries, a federal solution through a non-territorial approach can be worked out for the Nagas of Nagaland, Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in India?

There is no reason why the amalgamation of culture, economy, education and social discourses should not be allowed through some political innovation. 

The different forms of cross-border arrangements can contribute towards social and economic cohesion and through this to the larger goal of Naga unity and emotional integration while continuing to co-exist with our neighbours. 

Challenges on the ground and the need to build trust and confidence

In the Naga context, how will a cross-border platform (Pan Naga body) pan out given the deep political divide that has come to the fore, in the last few years? 

Given the complexity of the present administrative arrangements, where Nagas find themselves under separate State governments including the reality of Nagaland State with its own intricacies, it is not going to be easy to formulate a solution on this issue.

The most difficult challenge is how do we relate present day Nagaland, with its existing boundaries, to the proposed Naga Peace Accord and the different formulations being worked out, especially the Pan Naga body? 

Of late there has been queries raised by Naga elders, intellectuals and organisations – and a raging debate seems to be brewing – on the possible structure of the Pan-Naga body and its probable ramifications. Some of the assertions are purely speculative and divisive. We need to be sensitive to the larger Naga issue confronting us and approach it with deftness because once the GoI works out the peace-deal with the NSCN-IM and the 7 NNPGs, the more arduous work on the status of Myanmar Nagas on the Pan-Naga body has to be addressed as well – with the help of the GoI. 

At the same time, the problem with the proposed Pan-Naga Body (or a non-territorial arrangement) is that there is no clarity on the specifics of how the idea could translate into a system that works on the ground. The Naga Rising firmly believes that any Pan-Naga Body being created under the proposed Naga Peace Accord must factor in the ground reality and the sentiments of the people. 

However, it appears that the GoI as well as the NSCN (IM) have a deficit of trust and confidence when it comes to sharing the details of this Pan-Naga model with the Naga people and this shroud of secrecy has given way to unnecessary speculations. And as the peace-talk drags on, more speculations will emerge giving way to more fissures to erupt across the Naga landscape. 

The above points are some areas that will need deeper consultation, besides creating trust and good-will. 

A Way Forward

It is the understanding of The Naga Rising that the statutory Pan-Naga body with the Naga flag seems to be the only dignified and “possible solution to the question of Naga integration” at this point in time. 

In our earlier statement we have noted that“The non-territorial arrangement (Pan-Naga body) that is mutually agreed should be the collective focus of the Nagas because we believe our aspiration towards a shared belonging as one people and the building of a future Naga-state will begin from there.” 

Formulation of Pan-Naga body would fulfil the spirit of the 9-Point Hydari Agreement and the 16-Point Agreement pertaining to unification of Naga-inhabited areas. The revered idea of ‘one people one territory’ dating back to the Akbar Hydari agreement should not be surrendered. 

Also, till such time all Naga areas are brought under a single administrative entity, for now the nature of relationship between Nagaland State and the proposed Pan-Naga body must be properly framed based on a judicious interpretation of existing constitutional provisions and political acumen. 

As a full-fledged State with a duly elected legislature and government, Nagaland should not be equated with the proposed Naga territorial autonomous councils to be set up in other States. Hence, it is also of vital importance that Naga members from Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh are represented in this Pan-Naga body on a fair and workable criterion. It should be made to work on democratic values and principles guided by Naga tradition and wisdom. In governance and decision-making, all shades of interest and opinion must be included in order to jointly share power and responsibility in running the affairs of the new platform. 

The Naga Rising 1. Along Longkumer; 2. Vitho Zao; 3. Hukavi T. Yeputhomi; 4. Amai Chingkhu; 5. Tsukti Longkumer; 6. Moie Bonny Konyak; 7. Ngukato K. Tsuipu; 8. Mar Longkumer; 9. Joel Naga; 10. Khriezodilhou Yhome

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