Experimenting with Supra State Body
- Separating Politics and Culture –

Yenning *

Students rally in Ukhrul demanding 'Alternative Arrangement' :: 25th November 2011
Students rally in Ukhrul demanding "Alternative Arrangement" :: 25th November 2011 - Pix :: Jimmy Leivon

The news story broken by the Guwahati based Seven Sisters Post about the Government of India's offer for a Supra State body to NSCN-IM for administering Naga people beyond the boundary of the present State of Nagaland in such areas as culture, custom and tradition has, as expected, generated mixed responses across the whole North East region.

Hopes and apprehensions evoked by the news story are more discernible in Manipur than in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, the other two States broadly encompassed by the proposed Supra State body. Much before the Government of India's offer for Supra State body was made public by the Seven Sisters Post, Naga frontal organisations under the captaincy of the United Naga Council (UNC) have imposed economic blockade on the national highways connecting Imphal with other cities of India and it is still going on.

Initially, the highway blockade was launched to counter the indefinite blockade imposed by the Sardar Hills Districthood Demand Committee (SHDDC) against the latter's pursuit of a separate Sadar Hills district. However, the UNC, till date, has not displayed any intention to lift the counter blockade even though the blockade which they intended to counter was lifted 26 days back.

It is no longer a counter blockade but purely a blockade. The moment SHDDC lifted their blockade, the UNC's justification for the counter blockade vanished in thin air. Yet, the counter blockade continues, and now the UNC's vindication is New Delhi's failure to take forward the process for alternative arrangement (for the Nagas of Manipur).

Here we cannot overlook the fact that UNC's renewed demand for alternative arrangement came at a time when New Delhi's offer for Supra State body was already made public. The UNC, as per news reports published by The Sangai Express on November 22, 2011, maintained that the ongoing economic blockade would be called off once the Government of India sends its feedback over the alternative arrangement demand. Again, the same report quoted the UNC as stating that "the matter (Supra State body) is at a high-level Indo-Naga talk process".

In view of the re-invigorated campaign for alternative arrangement and the report about the offer for Supra State body, which of course was rejected by the Home Minister of India, Shri. P. Chidambaram as "baseless and mischievous", only to be rebuffed by the Seven Sisters Post boldly calling the Home Minister untruthful, it would be rather interesting and meaningful to explore possible ramifications as well as the underlying concept of the proposed Supra State body.

Supra State Body

According to the report published by the Seven Sisters Post about the negotiation between New Delhi and NSCN-IM, the pan-Naga Supra State body was drawn up by New Delhi in response to NSCN-IM's persistent demand for integration of Naga inhabited areas under a single political entity to be called Nagalim (greater Nagaland). NSCN-IM leadership put their demand in this way.

It is the position of the NSCN that the present so-called state of Nagaland comprises only portion of Nagaland and that more realistic boundaries should be agreed upon that enable the Naga areas to be integrated within one administrative entity. The portions of Nagaland which are situated in present day Myanmar will not form part of the present negotiations.

Response of the Indian negotiators: Under law boundaries of State can be altered only after taking into consideration the views of the concerned State Legislators. The views of the Government of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam are very clear in this regard. Therefore, it would not be possible to concede to the demand in the absence of political consensus from all concerned.

Therefore, NSCN (IM) may think of 'second best' if the 'best' in their view is not possible. Possible autonomy of Naga areas without altering the boundaries of the State's concerned so that in many matters, the representatives of the hill areas may administer the subjects in their charge along with a supra State body for the Nagas for their cultural, social and customary practices may be discussed. This pan-Naga Supra State body will be in the recognition of the distinct identity of the Nagas.

It is clear that NSCN-IM leadership have been demanding physical integration of the Nagas against which New Delhi is offering some sort of cultural unification of the Nagas through the proposed Supra State body.

NSCN-IM leadership have not made any official comment on the proposed Supra State body. At the same time, New Delhi has not yet disclosed any details about the functions and operational mode of the pan-Naga (cultural) body. As of now, what we understand is that the proposed Supra State body would administer the Nagas of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in their cultural, social and customary practices. The Supra State body will not have the power to oversee the security aspect of the Naga inhabited areas (beyond the present State of Nagaland). The report published by the Seven Sisters Post states "Law and order and police will entirely be the call of the concerned State Governments but the Supra State body will advise the concerned State agencies on the implementation of different projects in the Naga areas".

The obvious implication of this arrangement, if it is true, is that Nagas of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh would have political affiliation to the respective State Governments while at the same time their cultural, social and customary practices would be governed by the Supra State body based outside the States. This would create not only a dicey situation but also breed a serious dilemma among the Nagas of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

And we are not sure if this arrangement would be welcomed by the Nagas living outside Nagaland. Instead of the present single authority of which they are subjects, Nagas would be made subjects of two separate authorities—the concerned State Governments and a pervasive Supra State body. In fact, the Supra State body is a bold initiative of the Government of India to arrive at an honourable solution after 13 years of peace talk with NSCN-IM but we cannot help asking if politics, culture and social practices can ever be separated as intended by the Supra State body.

First, let's appreciate the positive aspect of the proposed body. It is true that granting rights to ethnic groups, such as the Nagas, can ensure their domination. The present proposal goes beyond the form of federalism and consociationalism prevalent in India for the establishment of multiethnic States. The earlier approach supports ethnic pluralism, while the final position, integration, foresees its decline with the gradual building of social and cultural cohesion.

The present proposal or position in the form of a supra body is strongly advocated in the United Kingdom, where multiculturalism was officially abandoned in 2004 due to its perceived effect as ethnically divisive, in favour of policies concerned with community cohesion ad integration. In other words, the United Kingdom was already experimen-ting with the idea of supra body. Here, integration is seen as encompassing the goals of ethnic equality and ethnic interaction, with strong concern over ethnic groups that lead parallel and separated lives.

However, the problem is, India is not United Kingdom. The latter is a unitary State, meaning to say that the Government of United Kingdom directly deals with the ethnic minorities, formulates and implements the policies directly. In the case of India, as much as New Delhi or the Nagas desires, the State Governments can never be bypassed. This has been clearly admitted by New Delhi. Moreover, the case of United Kingdom relates more with immigrant population, not the natives. Finally, one is yet to assess the achievements of such a policy even in the case of UK.

In the context of the proposed supra body, one is reminded of the dual administration of Manipur during British colonialism after the Anglo-Manipur War of 1891, which was characterised by separation between political-economy and culture and religion. The former was an absolute realm of the British (including the administration of the hill areas) wherein the King of Manipur did not have any say.

The latter, that is, culture and religion, was a domain of the native ruler. We are familiar with the chaotic situation that ensued, which in fact planted the seeds of separation between the valley people and the hills. Thus, one can even go to the extent that the proposed supra body is not a new one but a revisit of colonial policies.

Coming to the present understanding of "the political", political theories ranging from the varied liberal tradition to the Marxist including critical theory as well the subaltern, denies the separation between politics and culture. In either way, culture has to form a part of the politics or politics has to take into account the cultural stratum.

Any political or administrative policy, which calls for a dichotomy between the two is likely to result in collision of authority (State Government versus the Supra State body) without bringing any benefits to the stakeholders. The idea of the supra body instead of bringing desired results, say ending the vexed Naga issue, is bound to generate rounds of conflict in the North East.

* Yenning wrote this article for The Sangai Express in a regular column "Hoi Polloi & Mundanity"
The writer can be reached at yenning05(at)rocketmail(dot)com or visit
This article was posted on November 29, 2011.

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