Misinterpretation of the Naga Political Settlement

Pakinrichapbo *

In order to understand why we should build a safe atmosphere to facilitate meaningful debate in any controversial topics, what they meant to us, and why younger generation should inculcate the habit to examine our political history with honesty, it is prudent to commence by examining two turning points in the history of the Naga political movement and their implications even to this day.

The first major turning point is best explained with an extract from the essay 'Exploring Democracy in Nagaland' by an anthropologist, Jelle JP Wouters. He states: "In December 1963, Dr. Radhakrishnan, India's then President, flew to Kohima to inaugurate Nagaland state.

'Friends', he began his speech: 'I have great pleasure in inaugurating the new state of Nagaland. It takes an hounoured place today as the Sixteenth State of the Indian Union...(our) attempts to secure you the fullest freedom to manage your own affairs have culminated in the creation of Nagaland State... May I also express the hope that, now that the wishes of the Nagas have been fully met, normal conditions will rapidly return to the State, and those who are still unreconciled will come forward to participate in the development of Nagaland.'"

Members of the NPC agreed with this statement made by then president of India. S.C. Jamir (2016: 96) remarks: "It is still a baffling proposition as to how a tiny district, the district of the Naga Hills of Assam province at first became Naga Hills-Tuensang Area and then a full-pledged state.'

The NNC, and its loyalists, however mourned the new state as a divisive 'sell-out' and instantly rejected the new state's legitimacy to govern. Phizo himself was unequivocal in his judgment of NPC members: 'They are traitors. Every one of them. They have betrayed us and dishonoured the martyrs who died for our cause (cited in Steyn 2002: 118).'

In modern Naga political history, few events remain as controversial and contested as the creation of Nagaland state. It divided Nagas politically into two different camps—the people of the new state and, the other, those supporting Naga independence—although the distinctions between them (and have) overlap on various dimensions and they seem to share more common characteristics than differences.

Most Naga 'overground' politicians tend to nourish sentiments of sympathy towards the larger Naga political cause, while Naga undergrounds, or 'national workers' as they became known, routinely seek access to the treasures and benefits the new state puts on display.

Divergent political positions on the new state were also articulated in the post-statehood democratic domain. The Nagaland Nationalists Organization (NNO), the political party that swept the first post-statehood elections in 1964, emphasized in its manifesto that the "achievement of Statehood was a triumph of the people's will (cited in Jimomi 2009: 49)."

Its later political adversary, the United Democratic Front (UDF) disagreed: "People of no other state in India have made sacrifices like the Naga, so much so that the State of Nagaland is not considered as a gift, but as a State created for a price dearly paid: a sacrifice of over ten thousands lives (cited in Nibedon 1978:282)."

The second major turning point is the Shillong Accord. As Abraham Lotha in 'The Hornbill Spirit: Nagas living their Nationalism' states that the Shillong Accord, instead of resolving the Naga issue, created a divided house, splitting the nationalists into NNC and National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN).

What we can conclude or gather from these two turning points is that it is not only the central government, but even the Nagas themselves were rendering their own interpretation and version of the terms of the final settlements vis-à-vis statehood and the Shillong accord according to their self-interests, thereby fueling political instability.

While, on the other hand, the GoI considered the creation of Nagaland state to be the final settlement to Naga issue, which some Nagas, through the NNO and few succeeding political parties and state politicians, considered or interpreted the same.

Another note worthy remark of the speech during the inauguration of the Nagaland statehood was that he addressed the audience as the Nagas, not Nagas of Nagaland. It is fair to assume that the President thought all the unreconciled Nagas, irrespective of state boundaries, would soon reconcile, but fourteen years later, the rising tide of Naga nationalism forced GoI to impose another accord, the Shillong Accord of 1975, hoping that would be the final settlement.

However, the GoI was proven wrong again, leading to the present tense situations, even after the signing of the Framework Agreement (in August 2015) and 17th November 2017 Agreed Position.

Fast forward from the catastrophic days of post-creation of Nagaland statehood and the Shillong Accord, we now face similar situation where misinterpretation of the impending final settlement, to be made between central govt. and NPGs, is likely to occur again.

Not long after the signing of the framework agreement, each of the parties involved has created its own versions or interpretations of what the framework is, which are often contradictory even though the three groups are referring to the same accord.

Not surprisingly, Nagaland's leading intellectuals and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) had only questioned the framework agreement signed between GoI and NSCN IM by asking its contents to be made public.

While the agreed position signed between GoI and NNPGs did not receive the same treatment of attention the framework agreement received for the reasons best known to those (CSOs) demanding the details of framework agreement.

Seeing such unhealthy political environment where even CSOs are involved in taking sides only shows the days ahead won't be so pleasant. Taking sides, because of group's hidden interests will not only create political turbulence but also create chaotic atmosphere just as it happened in the past.

CSOs, therefore, need to seriously study if taking/choosing sides would help bring permanent peace and reduce collateral damage once the ongoing peace talks breaks down (which by the way appears inevitable).

It is essential for us to realize that the GoI have a long term plan to gradually bring an end to Naga national movement, since ending a nearly hundred year old issue won't be possible with a single accord (as demonstrated by the two past agreements/accords, i.e. sixteen point agreement and the Shillong accord, that greatly reduced the spirit of Naga Nationalism).

Remarkably lots have happened since the incidents of political drama of statehood and Shillong accord. Back in those days, we saw as the aftermath of these two watershed events, thousand of frustrated Nagas joined the Naga militants groups to fulfill its political goals of establishing Naga Nation.

However, going by the present scenario in Nagaland context, it is highly unlikely to see the repeat of the past events, where youths joined the movement with the object to achieve the aims of Naga Nationalism.

The sentiments of nationalism, especially among the Nagas of Nagaland, have reached a point of exhaustion due to the repeated failures to achieve any substantial breakthrough. This is made worse when we include the problems and growing issues of multiple parallel-governments, tribal rivalries, and regionalism.

In case similar arrangement (similar to the creation of statehood and the Shillong Accord) is made between Central Gov't and NNPGs, disagreement among Nagas is bound to emerge given some sections of Nagas within Nagaland and Nagas outside Nagaland will continue with the struggle even if the framework is signed, which will be viewed as a "sell-out." And in such scenario, as the saying goes that a man is at his worst when betrayed by his own kind, it will be difficult to find a middle ground and to start anew.

The pressing question now is how to bring different armed factions to a comprehensive agreement for the sake of creating a safe future for all the Nagas. To restart the work of bringing different armed factions to an agreement, CSOs and the mass public have to be honest in their approach.

In conclusion, the Naga Nationalism runs the risk of becoming one of the greatest farces of the 21st century if it continues to be on the same page following the existing degenerating method.

* 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 03, 2020

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