Post Mortem

A Passing Coup D’oeil at the Naga Political Movement

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 1/11/2021 12:17:25 PM IST

 Before the advent of Christianity and British rule, living as our forefathers had been, mostly confined to their own respective and exclusive village lives, often preoccupied with inter-village internecine headhunting, the first formal articulation of a common Naga political aspiration was the Memorandum submitted to the Simon Commission on January 10, 1929.

It was, however, the formation of the Naga National Council (NNC) in 1946, with T Aliba Imti as President and T Sakhrie as Secretary that gave to the Naga political movement a common umbrella and springboard, a Naga institution meant for all Nagas and revered by all. It was the NNC that proclaimed to India and the world the existence of the Nagas as a people bound together by blood, race and geography, seeking and aspiring for a common homeland with a shared political destiny as a free and sovereign people. Thus on 14th August, 1947, one day ahead of India’s independence, the NNC under President T Aliba Imti declared independence of the Nagas as a free people.

The Nine-Point Agreement signed between the NNC and Sir Akbar Hydari, Governor of Assam in June 1947 was the first political agreement signed between the Nagas and the Government of India, which in effect was an explicit recognition by the Govt. of India of the uniqueness of the Naga way of life and of the Nagas’ unique polity arrangements.

Another important milestone in the Naga political journey was the plebiscite of 16 May 1951, organized and conducted by the NNC under A Z Phizo’s Presidenship. Through the Plebiscite, the Naga people had given their whole-hearted mandate to the NNC to secure a separate Naga homeland.

The NNC had started as a peaceful, mass people’s political movement, but by 1955, ideological differences, between what might be called the moderates who believed in solution to the Naga political issue through peaceful means, and the extremists who believed in resorting to arms and violent means, became almost irreconcilable. The split between the two conflicting and diametrically opposite ideologies of war and peace perhaps became complete with the kidnapping, torture and brutal killing of T Sakhrie, a highly gifted intellectual and a staunch believer in political solution through peaceful means, in January, 1956,- not by the Indian Security force, but by his own people.

Phizo’s vision and commitment was for a free and sovereign Nagaland. He did not have to, and never indeed highlighted specifically, for a separate flag or Constitution since these were natural attributes of a free and independent nation. Formation of Hongking or Federal Govt. of Nagaland (NFG) on 18 September 1954 was another Naga political movement milestone for the NNC under Phizo’s leadership, and it was only natural that they would, and indeed did, have their Naga flag as a national symbol and a national Yehzabo or Constitution for running the affairs of the Naga nation. The fundamental issue for Phizo and the NNC under him was the sovereignty of Nagaland, and not necessarily the accompanying paraphernalia of flag and Constitution that gave distinctive identity to their perceived sovereign nation. The logic as we understand is that an independent sovereign nation has its own national flag and national Constitution. But the picture is totally different compared to Phizo’s movement. The two agreements signed consciously and formally by representatives of the underground leaders and the GOI’s Interlocutor namely , the Framework Agreement of 3rd August 2015 which was published in all the local dailies so also the Preamble Agreement of 17th November 2017 which was widely circulated are now very much under public domain. Both sovereignty and Integration do not figure in none of the agreements. 

The actual start in the mid 1950’s of armed confrontation to secure the Naga political aspiration as an independent and sovereign Naga homeland quickly spiraled into a tumultuous era of unspeakable trauma and suffering for the Naga people. As violence, bloodshed, and an unbridled reign of terror and hell’s mayhem were let loose, the Naga public, especially the villagers, were caught helplessly between the proverbial devil and the sea with no escape route. On the one hand, the Indian Security forces indulged in heinous acts of harassments, torture, killings, rapes, and torching of villages and granaries down to ashes. Entire villages were uprooted and grouped together by herding them like cattle into concentration camps. Even Churches were not spared from being desecrated into platforms of lust and unlawful confinement of the worshippers. With their granaries gone in smoke, some villagers who escaped the Indian Army’s dragnet roamed the jungles like wild animals surviving on wild jungle leaves and roots. On the other hand, the Naga armed undergrounds started to hunt for their own brethren, mostly on mere suspicion of alleged collaboration with the Indian state, kidnapped them, tortured and killed them. Even today, the hands of many Naga national workers are reeking with the innocent blood of their own brethren. As the armed conflict continued, thousands of precious Naga lives were lost. This indeed was a tragic era in Naga history when normal life, including education for the children of the day, came to a grinding halt.

Another sorry part of this saga of human tragedy was that whatever was happening to the Nagas was totally blanketed in silence and the outside world knew nothing of the goings-on in the Naga territories. Should this insanity be allowed to continue, the Nagas as a people faced the imminent danger of total annihilation. The choice was between survival and annihilation as a people. Also, the issue raised was, do we remain submerged as an obscure district in Assam, being helplessly sandwiched between the inhuman operations of the Indian security forces and the reckless diktats of the armed undergrounds, or should we come out in the open, even at the risk of our own lives, to air our views to the Govt. of India and the outside world for attainment of the Naga political aspirations through dialogue and peaceful means? It was in the midst of those tumultuous and tragic circumstances that some Naga leaders, from different tribes, came forward and through their collective wisdom, the Naga People’s Convention (NPC) was formed and three conventions held- at Kohima in August 1957, at Ungma in May 1958, and at Mokokchung in October 1959. Historical records will show that the attendance and response from the Naga public in all the three conventions were large and enthusiastic, representing all the tribes from the then Naga Hills and Tuensang Frontier Division. In the first convention, for instance, the total tribal representatives were 1763, with an additional around 2000 observers.

The first outcome of the NPC’s efforts was the integration that took place between the then Naga Hills and Tuensang Frontier Division by the Naga Hills-Tuensang Area Act, 1957, w.e.f. 1st December 1957 and a complete break-away from Assam. In the final negotiation between the NPC’s representatives and the Prime Minister of India, the NPC was represented by a team of 18 Naga negotiators from 11 tribes, leading to formal inauguration of the creation of the state of Nagaland on 1st December 1963. In the 16-Point Memorandum that the NPC had unanimously adopted in its third Mokokchung convention, and accepted by the Govt. of India, some of the special features were: (i) the State of Nagaland was put under the External Affairs Minstry; (ii) Article 371(A) became part of the special protective provisions accorded specifically to Nagaland; (iii) special funding provision from the Consolidated fund of India was made; (iv) provision was made for re-transfer of Reserved Forests from Assam to Nagaland; (v) Provision was given for integration of contiguous Naga inhabited areas; (vi) formation of a separate Naga Regiment was included, and so on. It may be noted that the negotiation took place direct with the Prime Minister of India and the agreement was signed on his behalf by the Foreign Secretary of India.

The armed conflict still continued. Through the tireless efforts of Nagaland Baptist Church Council, a much longed for Ceasefire was brought into effect on the midnight of 5 September 1964. This was wholeheartedly supported and welcomed by the Nagaland State, the Churches and the entire Naga public. In the Peace Mission apart from Jayaprakash and B.B.Chaliha, Chief Minister of Assam Rev.Michael Scott, a British Citizen was included in it. It may be noted that the state government led by P.Shilu Ao fully supported and voiced for a final honorable and acceptable solution to the Naga political issue. After the Ceasefire of 1964 was brought into effect, As Parliamentary Secretary to Shri Pandit Jawharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister and being a Member of Parliament, I had the privilege to accompany Mr Gundevia, Foreign Secretary of India for the first meeting at Chedima with the leaders of the Naga Federal Govt. to initiate commencement of political dialogue. The level of talk was at the highest level because the Federal Government of Nagaland was mandated by the plebiscite.

Of the six rounds of political negotiations that took place in Delhi between the NFG leaders and Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister in 1968 provided a golden opportunity to resolve the long standing Naga political problem to the utmost satisfaction to both the Nagas and the Government of India. With an open mind, the Indian Prime Minister offered to the Naga delegation maximum autonomy, But at this crucial and critical time one of the members within the delegation started conspiring to derail the talk purely based on narrow tribal prejudice. If the Tenyimi National Workers’ Forum is trying to point finger on the conspirator here was the real conspirator very much within the fold of the delegation in the last round of talks between the Naga Federal Government and the Prime Minister of India. This best possible golden opportunity offered by the Prime Minister was aborted due to their internal conspiracy and discord within the Naga delegation itself. What followed thereafter was a catastrophe in the Naga political movement. The organization was split vertically into Federal Group and Revolutionary Group, followed by more betrayals, and the backbone of the NNC was fatally fractured.

The much maligned Shillong Accord of 1975, now dead, was signed by the Governor on behalf of the GOI. This, however was to trigger another serious split in the Naga political movement, followed by yet another split, and still more splits in recent times until the total number of the different groups or of their specific names can no longer be properly identified or enumerated by the Naga public, except for the severe economic pain caused to the public by the multiple extortions collected by the different armed cadres.

Ceasefire of 1997 between the NSCN (IM) under the leadership of Isaac Swu and Th. Muivah and the Government of India was made at the back of the State Government, the Churches of Nagaland and the Naga public. This ceasefire under the new leaderships had completely reversed and nullified the character of the previous norms and status and mutually agreed to entrust an interlocutor in the person of Kaushal to conduct the political negotiation. Of course the present arrangement is totally different in nature and complexion compared with the undivided Federal Government of Naga underground. It was mandated by the plebiscite of 1951; hence, the stature of the Federal Government of Nagaland was unique in all respects. 

In the aftermath of a military conquest, the winner dictates the terms and takes what he wants. Today’s Naga political settlement process, on-going now for more than two decades through peaceful negotiations cannot be singled out and isolated from the prevailing geo-political realities, or from the contextual realities of the larger Indian political landscape. Can the Naga political leaders take away what is not acceded to by the other negotiating party? The Govt. of India has recognized the uniqueness of the Naga political movement and had publicly stated its positive approach towards a final resolution of the Naga political aspirations on the basis of the mutually agreed upon ‘Framework Agreement’. Most of all, the Naga public are all yearning and longing for enduring peace and total normalcy to be restored in the land. Another golden opportunity is now on hand. Seize it in unison and let us move forward, or else the future will not forgive those responsible for letting the opportunity slip away.

Sitting in the comforts of today’s modern amenities of life, howsoever limited as compared to the outside world, and totally ignorant of how far and how arduously we have traversed as a people from where we were, socio-economically and politically, seven decades ago, or even six decades back, it may be easy for some people, in the name of pseudo-patriotism and rootless politics, to be spewing out yarns of imaginary accusations, or to point their blood-soaked, self-righteous fingers at others without one shred of hard evidence to produce, if dragged to the Courts of Justice on serious defamation charges. This, however, is not the time for Nagas,- whether individuals or groups, over-ground or underground,- to be barking at each other in the name of Naga nationalism, while others look upon us bewildered and amused, or even happy that we are doing our best to show our bitter disunity and thus ensure that the Naga Underground leaders are rendered incapable of speaking in one voice and thus consequently destroy the prospect of arriving at a consensus political settlement. This is not the time to be indulging in self-perceived vainglory or in the vanity of self-destruction. While the future destiny of the Nagas hang in delicate balance, this is a time for Nagas everywhere to be humbly united in prayer to God for his favour and lend every possible positive support for an early peaceful solution to the protracted Naga political issue. Let us be realistic and pragmatic, seize the moment of opportunity now available to us and give a brighter future to the upcoming generations.

S C Jamir, Former Chief Minister & Governor

Launched on December 3,1990. Nagaland Post is the first and highest circulated newspaper of Nagaland state. Nagaland Post is also the first newspaper in Nagaland to be published in multi-colour.

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