Addressing the Zeliangrong question

Pakinrichapbo *

 Rongmei community : 5th State Level Amur Falcon Festival at  Tamenglong :: 4 November 2019
Rongmei community at 5th State Level Amur Falcon Festival, Tamenglong on 4 November 2019 :: Pix - Lamdamba Oinam

The Naga peace talk is on the edge of conclusion as reported in the Nagaland post dated 15.07.2020. It goes further to state that in a major breakthrough Government of India Representative and Interlocutor, Mr. Ravi, and also Governor of Nagaland and the Working Committee of NNPGs agreed to finalize draft agreement for early settlement to the decades old Naga Political issue.

The said press statement also mentioned that both the parties have chalked out action plan for impending final agreement, so the negotiation is closed between Interlocutor and WC of NNPGs as per the deadline of the 31st October 2019.

However, the narrative on the other side is different with the GoI and NSCN-IM failing to break the impasse on the issue of co-existing as two entities and share sovereignty with IM still not giving up on separate flag, constitution, and territorial integration .

The question as to what makes the results of Naga peace talks more so connected with the Zeliangrong people comprise of Zeme, Liangmai, Rongmei and Inpui tribe, living in three state of Assam, Manipur and Nagaland.

Zeliangrong people were recognized under different names by the Schedules Tribe Order 1950 and its subsequent amendments. This article is an attempt to illustrate how the results of the current peace talks will have a huge implication on the Zeliangrong people and their ancestral lands.

The irony is that the Zeliangrong people are so politically divided thanks to individual and local interests, crude regionalism, and blind loyalty to their own factions without prudently discussing how to secure the best interests for the people.

In modern political sense, Zeliangrong consciousness as one unit started with Haipou Jadonang 1905 -1931. After his untimely death the burden of fulfilling Zeliangrong political interests was passed on to his successor late Apeh Gaidinliu (1915 -1993). In Nagaland context, fellow Naga tribes often question Zeliangrong existence in Nagaland without bothering to find out its historical backgrounds.

Late Gaidinliu though born and raised in Longkao Village, under Tamenglong District Manipur, had huge followers from her kindred tribes living in several villages under Tening Sub-division (Peren) and also from Zeliangrong people living in Dima Hasao formerly North Cachar Hills, which is one of the main reasons why Zeliangrong entity exists in Nagaland.

Followers of Naga political history will be aware of the fact that when Naga Movement gained momentum across all Naga villages from middle part of 1950s, Apeh Gaidinliu met Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru at Imphal (in 1953 ) and made him conscious of her people living conditions and also to do something spreading across the three States.

She soon mobilized members of the Zeliangrong who believed in her cause to fight for Zeliangrong homeland under the Indian Constitution. When the Naga National Council (NNC) authority was in its peak, Gaidinliu had to suspend Zeliangrong movement for homeland due to intense pressure from Zeliangrong leaders working in NNC.

The Zeliangrong leaders felt that it would not be right to go against the Naga cause spearheaded by NNC as it might create a sense of betrayal by the Zeliangrong. Soon after suspension of the Zeliangrong movement, the talks between Naga People Convention and GoI, resulted in Naga hills being upgraded to full pledge statehood in 1963.

Even though NNC condemned the statehood, their condemnation could not save the Zeliangrong people from physical disintegrations, blood brothers land boundaries with few inch apart became state boundaries further severing their historical ties and sympathy for each other. This was the first setback to Zeliangrong fraternity.

Even after the Statehood and Shillong Accord under the Indian Constitution, the Zeliangrong community still believes in the Naga cause and continues to support the Naga cause carry forward by NSCN and thus suspended their movement for homeland. The Zeliangrong people especially living in Assam and Manipur still believe in the results of Naga Peace talks with the hope of integration.

Forlornly, the Naga movement had come a long way crossing 70 years now and counting, in these long years Zeliangrongs faith in Naga cause remain as strong as it was in early NNC days, even overlooking the reality that the Naga tribes leading the movement now seems to have different aspirations to achieve from the peace talks, as most of the leading tribes lives within a single state and have nothing much to lose but to gain more after the final agreement is executed. While for the naive Zeliangrongs their faith in Naga cause could not shake them out unless the contents of impending final agreement do the talking.

As an ardent believer in Naga unity, I still hope the peace talks will deliver something to all the Naga tribes, but Iím left with little hope as Interlocutor R. N. Ravi said even territorial integration is dropped from the demands of Naga negotiators. With GoI and NNPGs agreement, it is very likely that the agreement would extend only within Nagaland state.

And if speculations are true, Nagaland will see increase of State Legislative Assembly seats and parliamentary seats, establishment of legislative council. Not discrediting the influence of NNPGs outside Nagaland, but I wonder if any arrangement made for Nagas in neighboring states would see the light of day.

Time and again NNPGs have stressed that they speak and remember the welfare of Nagas in other states, but it is hard to comprehend that NNPGs will fight tooth and nail to secure interests of Nagas outside Nagaland, even when the so-called Naga nationalists has taken regionalism to a new level. In such a reality, Zeliangrongs have very nominal or nothing to achieve from GoI and NNPGs solution for the Nagas.

With GoI and NSCN IM, the situation is not better, may be even worse. The NSCN-IM has said they have not given up on integration, but Interlocutor had time and again maintain integration of Naga areas is out of the picture.

How can Nagas get separate flag and constitution even when GoI is not willing to redraw state boundaries, which is legally permissible within the constitution? From the time of the formation of NSCN in 1980 and later split of NSCN to NSCN-IM and NSCN-K in 1988 to 2020 (which comes to total of 40 years and still counting), Zeliangrong people have given its due share of cooperation to IM, so what more one could anticipate if the peace talks fail to integrate Zeliangrong people and their lands?

Or one expects all Zeliangrongs to fully cooperate if IM decides to resume their guerrilla warfare against India in case the peace talks break down.

As for myself being a part of the Zeliangrong, I will be more than content if any group in peace talks could bring some sort of administrative autonomy outside the administrative control of present states government in Assam and Manipur context, even when full integration of Zeliangrong people could not be achieved straightaway.

However, failing to achieve even administrative autonomy from the peace talks, the Zeliangrong people need to seriously re-examine the sacrifices of their people to Naga cause by not only studying the present social, economical, and political conditions of the Zeliangrong people living in the three states of Assam, Manipur, and Nagaland, but also studying whether continuing to sacrifice for Naga cause will integrate its people.

Lastly Zeliangrong people need to realize Indiaís political realities before it is too late, that India will remain a difficult place for the minorities to survive, and worst in tribal state.

* Pakinrichapbo wrote this article for
The writer is an Advocate, from Peren and can be reached at pakinchawang(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on August 11, 2020

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