As GoI-Nagas Negotiations Halt, A Dive into Understanding Nagas Through History Part II of a two-part series

dr n venuh
One of the many tribes of Nagaland (Source: Official Website Tuensang District, Nagaland) and (inset) Dr N. Venuh, Professor of History, Nagaland University.

In Part I, Dr Venuh and I discussed the pre-colonial and colonial history of Nagaland. Here in Part II, we discuss the events leading up to India’s independence, the birth of the Naga political crisis, and his take on Nagas’ demand for shared sovereignty with India. Excerpts:

The British incorporated the Naga hills into Assam Province, but they also tried to keep the former separate from the latter through direct governance and minimising their interaction with mainland Indians. Had they not done that, would there have been greater interaction which could have potentially warded off the current Naga political crisis?

Even though there would have been greater connectivity and interaction, it would not have solved the issue. In 1929, when the Simon Commission came to India to study reforms, they travelled to the Naga hills, too. It was then that the Naga Club submitted a memorandum to the Simon Commission, stating that the Nagas have had a separate culture, customs and traditions differing from the rest of India, and on India’s independence, they [Nagas] should not be merged with India. So, you can see, even with limited connectivity and interaction, the Naga Club was aware about Indian culture and how they were different.

But every part of India has different culture, customs, and traditions.

Yes, there is vast diversity from region to region but there is also some similarity, that is why there is the collective identity as Indians. Similarly, various tribes within the Nagas are bound by similarity in culture and we all call ourselves Nagas. 

How did the Naga political crisis come into being?

In the Government of India Act in 1935 the Naga Hills were stated as ‘Excluded Area’ and thus not deemed to be a part of the Indian Union. In 1946 when the Cabinet Commission came to India, the Nagas, under the banner of the Naga National Council (NNC), submitted a memorandum to Her Majesty reiterating the position they had taken in front of the Simon Commission.

The then British Prime Minister Atlee placed the Naga issue under Advisory Committee which could then refer the matter to the Indian Constituent Assembly if they deemed fit. However, on their visit to Kohima, the NNC told the Committee that the Nagas had their own Constitution and hence couldn’t be a part of the Indian Union and asked for 10 years wherein could decide their fate. Meanwhile, discussions between Sir Akbar Haidari, then Governor of Assam, and the NNC resulted in a Nine-Point Agreement.

However, the matter did not go to the Constituent Assembly, and the Nagas realised that the Agreement would not be incorporated in the Indian Constitution. NNC then went to Delhi to meet the leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi, and explained that the Nagas were not a part of India. Mahatma Gandhi replied that he believed everyone to be a part of India, but if they, the Nagas, believed otherwise, they could not be forced.

Unfortunately, Gandhi died early without resolving problems of subcontinent, but the Nagas had already decided to declare their Independence on 14th August 1947. In a 1951 plebiscite by NNC, 99% Nagas voted to not be a part of India. To reiterate their stand, in 1952, NNC boycotted India’s first independent general election. In 1953, when PM Nehru and Burmese PM U Nu met at Kohima, the Naga leaders wanted to participate, but Nehru refused. In protest, just before his public address, the locals staged a walkout, and no one except government officials stayed back. This provoked Nehru and resulted in the Assam Maintenance of Public Order Act in the Naga Hills which kicked off the violence.

Given the situation, the Nagas created militias. The Indian government tried to win over some of the educated Naga youth by creating the Naga People’s Convention (NPC) in 1957, without consulting with NNC and the general public.

The NPC signed a 16-Point Agreement with the Indian government in 1960 and the Naga Hills was officially declared as the state of Nagaland in 1963. Majority of the people did not accept this and the violence with intermittent ceasefires continued. Till 1972, the Naga issue was dealt under the Ministry of External affairs, but since then, it has been handled by the Ministry of Home Affairs. Even the 1975 Shillong Accord was signed under great duress.

Isn’t it true that one group did not accept the accord, moved out and formed the NSCN?

Well, if it was only group unaccepting of the accord, why did Nagas from all over agitate? The current NNC (Non-Accordist) does not accept the Shillong accord; it wouldn’t be where it is right now if it had accepted the Constitution and being a part of India.

But aren’t most cadres of NSCN-IM from one particular group?

The group you are talking about is Tangkhul and that’s the general perception, but in reality, almost all tribes are part of the NSCN (IM) which was created after the NSCN split in 1988. Post the 1997 ceasefire, the Indian Government and NSCN (IM) have been in continuous talks; in 2002 the Indian Government recognized the uniqueness of the Nagas and invited the latter to negotiate and come up with mutually beneficial solutions. In August 2015, the ‘Framework Agreement’ was signed after prolonged negotiations involving different interlocutors. However, it is 2020 and talks regarding various aspects within the borders of the Agreement are still going on.

 Alleged Framework Agreement between India and GoI; GoI hasn’t rolled it out yet.Source: Morung Express.

One proposition of the NSCN-IM is of a ‘Greater Nagalim’, some area of which lies in Myanmar. Why would Myanmar cede any of its territory to the Nagas?

Myanmar is a different country, but there are Nagas living in Myanmar, so that aspect must be negotiated with the Government of Myanmar and the Indian Government can help in it. But when we talk about Greater Nagalim, we mean integrating all areas which are within Indian territory.

Even in the US which is considered as the epitome of federalism, currency, foreign policy, and defence matters are controlled by the federal government. But NSCN (IM) have stated they want control over their defence and foreign policy, and the right to use Naga currency. How will this work in India, a quasi-federal country? Don’t you think NSCN-IM is interpreting ‘Shared Sovereignty’ wrongly?

I don’t know who is interpreting wrongly here. Sovereignty lies with the people. Naga sovereignty lies with the Naga people. In the Framework Agreement, it is stated that two entities will co-exist, i.e. two nation-states will co-exist and share some of the powers.

Could you say this Agreement is similar to the Instrument of Accession which Princely States signed with Dominion of India?

No, there is a difference between the two.  

Is there any global example of the concept of ‘Shared Sovereignty’ in the form which NSCN-IM is propagating?

Every country is different; we have to create our own structures and modalities. Until and unless government solves the Naga issue, India’s ‘Act East’ policy cannot resonate fully, and there will be disturbances.

Nagaland wants its political identity upheld. It is very important that both sides understand each other in order to co-exist. I must appreciate PM Modi’s resolve to understand and solve the issue. Political games harm both the parties so they should not be played. We should aim for a lasting solution. Naga region might be small in territory as compared to India, but when lasting peace will come, you will see that in many ways, Nagas will benefit India.

(Read Part I of the two-part series here)

Mark Kinra

Mark Kinra is a corporate lawyer by profession and geopolitical analyst at heart. He primarily works on South Asia, specializing in Pakistan.

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The views and opinions expressed in the above article belong to the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official opinion, policy or position of Lokmaanya.

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