|Editorial Vol. 3 Issue 57-58||July 7 - July 21, 2001|
The Naga Tangle Digging its roots for a better understanding
Manipur is burning. Assam and Arunachal are also angered and incensed. The reason of this discord? Signing of an Accord in Bangkok. The extension of the ceasefire agreement to areas outside Nagaland between NSCN (IM) and the Centre has been on the cards for a while now the NSCN (IM) had threatened to walk out of the ceasefire agreement if it was not extended to the Naga inhabited areas outside Nagaland. Given the backdrop of simmering political unrest, being under Presidents rule, it is no surprise that the reaction to the pact has been explosive in Manipur. It is obvious that the people of Manipur see the ceasefire extension as a mere step towards the formation of Greater Nagaland, comprising Naga dominated areas of Manipur.
First looking at the present of affairs, wont give a total understanding of the tangle. One has to go to the genesis of this problem. Prior to the advent of the British in the 1830s the Nagas lived in one contiguous region of Indo-Burma though the various Naga tribes were never under one unified administrative rule. The Naga villages were either self contained and self reliant or ruled by chieftains with circumscribed functions and authority. The total Naga population is scattered from the Brahmaputra valley in Assam in the west to the Chindurn in North West Burma in the East, most of Manipur in the South and Tirap and Changlang districts in Arunachal Pradesh to the north. The Nagas were among those who came down through Tibet to the Brahmaputra valley and the valleys of Chindurn, Irrawady, Salwin, Mekong, etc. but were forced by successive Tibeto-Chinese invaders to confine themselves into the mountains where they eventually settled down. (ref. Geogre A. Grierson, Linguistic Survey of India, Vol. 1 Part 1).
It is not known how long the Nagas have lived in Indo Burma except that according to the Anals of the Ahoms, when the Ahoms invaded Assam in AD 1215, the different Naga tribes were settled in their present habitat and from all that can be gathered, they were the same Nagas which the British found when they took possession of Assam several centuries later (ref.: W.C. Smith, the Ao Naga Tribe of Assam). It is also said that as early as 150 AD Claudius Ptolemy, the Greek scholar in his Geographical, referred to Nagaland as Nagalogoi which means "the realm of the naked".
In the 19th Century, the British dissected parts of the Naga territory. By the treaty of Yau Dabo in 1825 with the King of Burma, the British established their authority over Assam and Manipur. The need for the British to dissect Naga territories arose to create a link with the Kingdom of Manipur to consolidate their hold over Assam in order to exploit vast economic potential of the Brahmaputra valley. In the process large parts of this land were offered to neighbouring Maharajas like Gumbheer Singh, Purunder Singh, Tularam, etc. of Manipur, Cachar and Assam. It is believed that many of these Maharajas raided the Naga inhabited areas with the backing of the British and with the help of the sturdy Kukis, a tribe which is believed to have migrated with British help into Manipur from the Chin Hills of Burma (Myanmar). All this happened somewhere in the fourth decade of the 19th century. In 1866 the British created the Naga Hills district for administrative convenience. In 1873, under the Chin hills regulations and the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations, the Inner Line Regulation was enforced prohibiting British India subjects from entering the Naga Hills without prior permission. By the beginning of the last decade of the 19th century, the British had succeeded in establishing their authority over the Naga Hills district.
The Naga were exposed to the outside world for the first time in 1917 when 2000 Nagas were sent as labour corps by the British India government. After returing home, the labour corps formed the "Naga Club" in Oct. 1918. The main aim of the Naga club was to foster unity among the Naga tribes. The Naga club submitted the historic memorandum to the Simon Commission for Constitutional reformed schemes when the latter visited Kohima in 1929, demanding that the Nagas should be left alone to decide their own future. In pursuance of this memorandum, the British India Act 1935 renamed the Naga Hills District as "Naga Hills Excluded Area" and was placed under the direct administration of the Governor of Assam.
In 1941, Sir Robert Reid, the Governor of Assam recommended a scheme to carve out a trust territory comprising the Naga Hills area of Assam and the upper part of Burma inhabited by tribal people to form a Crown colony. However, this plan didnt materialise due to Britains engagement in the World War II. At the end of the war, C.R. Pawsey, the then Deputy Commissioner of the Naga Hills District, established a Naga Hills District Tribal Council (NHDTC) in April 1945 which was converted into the Naga National Council (NNC) in Reimary 1946. Its first general session was held in Wokha on June 19, 1946.
The newly formed NNC gave another memorandum to the British Cabinet Mission on April 9, 1946 asking the departing British government to pay heed to the feelings of the Naga people before taking any arbitrary decision while the modalities of the transfer of power are chalked out. That very year, Sir Reginald Coupland, a British Constitutional expert, revived the proposal of Robert Reid, known as Coupland Plan. The plan envisaged that the Government of India and Burma might have a treaty with the British and each should take a share of responsibility for the area as "Trust Territory". However, this plan also could never be implemented due to the change of Government in Britain.
In June 1946, A.Z. Phizo entered the NNC and brought a new dimension to the movement with his radical views and methods. In June, 1947, Sir Akbar Aydari, the then Governor of Assam negotiated with the NNC a 9-point agreement on behalf of the Indian Constituent Assembly. However, lots of misunderstanding cropped up and this agreement fell apart. An NNC delegation met Mahatma Gandhi and even corresponded with national leaders like Nehru and Rajagopalachari. A day before the declaration of national independence i.e. on August 14, 1947, the Nagas led by the NNC declared their independence. This declaration was even sent to the UNO. The NNC under Phizo conducted a plebiscite on May 16, 1951 and its results in 1952 showed 99 per cent vote in favour for a sovereign Naga state. In March 1956, the NNC established the underground Federal Government of Nagaland (FGN) with its armed wing as the federal Army. An NNC delegation led by Phizo had a stormy meeting with Nehru in 1952. Nehru labelled the wish of the Nagas to gain independence as "as absurd demand" and that "which can ruin them". It was then the turn of Phizo to give the movement a new dimension. He went abroad and from there controlled the movement which now became an underground armed movement.
While the NNC was taking a militant turn on one side, on the other the Assam government set up the Naga Peoples Convention (NPC) in August, 1954 comprising various tribal leaders of Nagaland. The NPC proposed the formation of a separate administrative unit by merging the Tuensang division of NEFA with Naga Hills District. The Centre agreed to the proposal and on December, 1957 the new administrative unit known as the Naga Hills and Tuensang Area (NHTA) was inaugurated. In July, 1960, a delegation of the NPC met the then Prime Minister late Jawaharlal Nehru and a 16-point agreement was arrived at which, inter alia, provided for the formation of a separate state for the Nagas within the Indian Union to be known as Nagaland under the Ministry of External Affairs (however in 1972, the state was brought under the Ministry of Home Affairs). On February 18, 1961 an interim body of 42 members was constituted to function as the de fecto legislature. P. Shilu Ao was appointed the Chief Executive Councillor and eventually became the first Chief Minister of Nagaland. On August 21, 1962, Jawaharlal Nehru introduced a bill in Parliament for the formation of Nagaland as a full fledged State. On December 1, 1963 President S. Radhakrishnan inaugurated the State of Nagaland. The late Vishnu Sahay became the first Governor of Nagaland. Subsequently the first general elections was held in 1964.
Considering the underground activities of the NNC a peace mission was formed, consisting of J.P. Narayan, B.P. Chalia (then CM of Assam) and Rev. Michael Scot, an Anglican Churchman. The mission put forward a proposal for ceasefire between the Indian security forces and the Naga armed forces to bring about a peaceful settlement. The ceasefire agreement was signed as effective from September 6, 1964. Consequently upon the extension of the ceasefire agreement, the talks between the Government of India and the Federal Government of Nagaland started but ended in a deadlock in 1967 after six rounds of talk to throw the State once again into a phase of uncertainty. There were charges and counter-charges between the security forces and the insurgents for breach of the terms of the agreement. Sporadic exchange of fire took place from time to time. On August 3, 1968 Gen Kaito, a prominent underground leader, was assassinated in broad daylight in Kohima. On August 8, 1972, the then Chief Minister Hokishe Sema was ambushed by undergrounds near Kohima but he had a lucky escape. On August 31, 1972, the government banned the three underground bodies i.e. the Naga National Council, the Naga Federal Government and the Federal Army. It was decided not to extend the ceasefire. The NPC was formed again at the initiative of the Church leaders and talks and discussion for peace continued. The State came under Presidents rule in March, 1975.
The Shillong Accord was signed at Shillong on November 11, 1975 by the Governor of Nagaland, L.P. Singh, representing Government of India and the underground leadership represented by Mr. Asa and Mr. Kevi Yalley. Although the Accord gave signs of hope in the beginning, it soon ran into problems as Phizo, the NNC president refused the existence of the Accord while NNC Vice President Isak Chisi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah, the NNC General Secretary both condemned and denounced the Accord outrightly as a complete sell-out of the Naga rights.
In 1980 a split took place, within the NNC and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) was formed. Over the course of time the NSCN took the mantle of Naga nationalism and came to represent the most radical section of Naga underground freedom movement. In fact it went from strength to strength to become the mother of all militant groups in the Noth East and was feared for its savagery, ruthlessness as also wide-spread global contact. However, in 1988, the NSCN suffered a big setback due to factionalism which led to fratricidal killings within the organisation. As a result the the NSCN was split into two factions one led by Isak Swu and Th. Muivah (NSCN-IM) while the other headed by Khaplang (NSCN-K). The great divide still exists between the two factions. However, in course of time the NSCN (IM) emerged as the most powerful organisation. Some questions are raised on the issue of the Tangkhul leadership (Th. Muivah is a Tangkhul from Ukhrul, Manipur) as they are bullying the Nagas to accept their supremacy by sheer might. However, no one can deny the fact that the say of NSCN (IM) in Naga affairs holds sway. They even run the parallel Government of Peoples Republic of Nagaland (GPRN) with assigned departments. The NSCN also enjoyed international recognition and has become a member of the Unpresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO) in January 1993.
The NSCN (IM) entered into ceasefire with Government of India in May 1997 which dragged on for the past 4 years without any tangible progress or solution. However, it can be said that the ceasefire has given the people of both Nagaland and other parts of the country to raise their voices for the purpose of peace in Nagaland. It is hoped that when the two parties try to understand each other's predicament with the peoples support behind them, things can be solved out. This requires a great patience for both to consider the peoples wishes along with them.
In Langwa and 16 other villages in Mon district (Nagaland), Longkhas village in Tirap district (Arunachal) and in Tusom village in Ukhrul district (Manipur), half of the village lands are in Burma and half in India. In the Longwa village the international boundary between India and Myanmar actually divides the Aughs (village chief) house into half. Today the Konyak Nagas are split up in such a way that they are found in Mon in Nagaland, in Tirap in Arunachal and in Eastern Nagaland, in Burma, the Khianmungan and Pochury Nagas are in both Nagaland and Burma, the Rengma and Lotha Nagas are both in Nagaland and Assam, the Tangkhuls are both in Manipur and Somra Tract in Burma and so on. In Manipur, the Nagas occupy extensive areas in the five hill districts with the exception of Churachandpur district which is inhabited by Mizos and Kukis. However, Churachandpur at still has a very small Naga population. The Tangkhuls occupy the entire East district with some pockets of Kuki population along the Manipur Myanmar borders. The northern district is the home of Mao, Maram, Koireng, Tarao, Thangal, Chiru and Paomei Nagas. The west district is the home of Zemei, Liangmei and Rongmei or Zeliangrong or Kabui Nagas and Chandel district is occupied by Anal, Lamkang, Hajon, Moushang, Maring and Chothe Nagas interspersed by the Thadous (Kukis).
A section of the Kabui, Tangkhul Nagas are settled in the Imphal valley. This spread- over of the Naga population is the reason why the Nagas in Nagaland are hollering for a Greater Nagaland or Nagalim as they prefer to call it. The Nagas of Nagaland feel that history has been very unkind to them and there is a need to unite the fragmented and dissect Naga population under a single territorial binding of their own. However, with the passage of time, a certain set of designs and understanding has come to set in. The states of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh are full- fledged states of the Union and it is but natural that they will not be ready to sacrifice their territorial integrity.
There is also the question of the right to self-determination as far as the Nagas outside Manipur are concerned. During the recent outburst in Manipur, several Naga organisations of the State in fact joined in to vehemently oppose the extension of the ceasefire to places outside Nagaland, describing it as an attempt to divide the people of the hills and the valley in the State. Demanding immediate retraction of ceasefire from Manipur, Kakhulong Youth Committee and Kakluilong womens society (two Naga organisations in Manipur) in a joint statement said the ceasefire was an attempt to divide the people. Other Naga organisations of Manipur like Majorkhul Youth Association, Dimdimdajang Kabui Khul, Khoupum Kaboui Groups, etc. demanded immediate withdrawal of the ceasefire from the State.
The Naga-Kuki feud is another dimension to the Naga tangle. It continues to burn the region since 1992. A number of Kuki militant outfits have also sprung up like the Kuki National Army (KNA), Kuki Independent Army (KIA), etc. This ethnic strife between the two groups has taken its heavy toll uptil now. There is reason to believe that from the British to the Maharajas and the present politicians have contributed in perpetuating and keeping alive this strife to serve their own interests. The two small states of Nagaland and Manipur have the highest per capita development expenditure allocated to them. With such large outlays and little to show by way of development, there is a clear indication that rampant siphoning of funds is taking place. The bazaar of the ethnic strife is also very lucrative for these so-called leaders and administrators of the State.
The new Tarun Gogoi government in Assam has also expressed its strong displeasure over extension of the ceasefire to Assam areas arguing that the peace of the State, already oppressed by its own militants, will be totally shattered. The boundary issue between Assam and Nagaland still continues to rake confusion and misunderstanding. The 1925 notification as regards to the demarcation of the boundary of the then Naga district was not acceptable to the Nagaland government. The Sundaram Commission was appointed to look into the border problems between Assam and Nagaland in depth and to make recommendation for demarcating the boundary. The commission submitted its final report in the month of February, 1976. While it was acceptable to Assam, Nagaland again rejected it. Skirmishes have continued in the border with claims and counter-claims as far as land possession in this region is concerned. Assam has always regretted and lamented the fact that the Nagas were slowly grabbing the border areas of Assam. On this backdrop when the ceasefire is extended to Assam region, it has obviously infuriated the State and its people.
However, in Nagaland the news of the extension of ceasefire to Naga inhabited areas outside the State has come as a source of great cheer. In the official press release the CM of Nagaland removed any doubts about any ambiguity of stance saying that the government demanded integration of the contiguous Naga areas into the State of Nagaland provided the people so desire and given the will of the other state governments concerned. However, this comes as a clear contradiction to the official and stern Congress stance, opposing the extension of the ceasefire to areas outside Nagaland. Bodies like the Naga Students Federation (NSF) and the Naga Ho-Ho (the apex body of the tribes of Nagaland) have welcomed the move of the Centre but they regard the self -determination of the Naga people outside the State has to be of paramount importance as nothing can be forced on them. The sad specacle of burning Manipur has come as a shock in most quarters of Nagaland. The Naga Ho-Ho has invited noted anthropologist and North-East expert B.K. Roy Burman to intervene in the matter. The president of the Naga Ho-Ho, M. Vero sent a fax message to Mr. Burman. The invitation is of great significance as the Ho-Ho has passed an unanimous resolution for the first time on this issue.
The Naga crisis has been pushed to a very sensitive phase. The Central Government has to do its best to appear even-handed to all parties concerned. As for the NSCN (IM), it seems to be on a better bargaining position now. After all Muivahs statement in Bangkok that "the Nagas only want 1.2 lakh sq. km. of land which belong to the Nagas" also is a clear indication that the outfit is really serious about its demand for a greater Nagalim. And this is exactly what has injected fear into the hearts of Meities, the Assamese and in Arunachal Pradesh. The Centre has to convince these states that the extension of the ceasefire is totally a demarcated issue to that of bowing to the demand of Greater Nagaland. Either this or scrap the deal and let the mad fury of the NSCN tiger loose. There is a great balancing act to be done. After all to please one the hopes/aspirations and voices of another can't be crushed.
Your Visit No
Since April 20, 2000