Spoils of Peace in Nagalim

Dr. Lungthuiyang Riamei *

An NSCN (IM) cadre on sentry duty at Camp Hebron
An NSCN (IM) cadre on sentry duty at Camp Hebron :: Pix TSE

From Ministry of External Affairs to Prime Ministerial level and now Ministry of Home Affairs (North East) taking up the Indo-Naga political dialogue. The recent Shambu Singh (Jt. Secretary NE) remarks about Indo-Naga political talks clearly indicates that India doesn't take Naga's problem an 'issue' anymore rather has degraded to mere bureaucratic level.

There were umpteenth stand-off between National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN) and Indian Military. Check and balance is necessary otherwise the existing NSCN camps will become another ghetto/concentration camp. For some interest groups signing ceasefire agreement has become another safe heaven and hamper developmental works in the Naga areas.

The GPRN (the defacto government), as the ideology is base on socialist should focus on welfare of people and promote developmental work rather being branded as 'extortionist' government. People expect what is called transparency from the defacto government. Since the inception of statehood in 1963 the face of Nagaland state didn't change much.

Rather 'have' and 'have-not' has become more visible in the Naga society. Michael Schumpeterís elitist theory of democracy which is based on the assumption that a human being takes his economic life more seriously than the political one justify for the Naga society. Narrow particularistic selfish motive of the individual dominated by fragment traditionalistic political culture and parochial values of tribalism has been the essence of Naga nationalism, thereby lacking peopleís solidarity.

To describe the Nagas' traditionalistic culture, Peter Laslettís 'face-to-face' society should be the ingredient where everyone knows everyone else and all problems are to be resolved by discussing among members. Pitting against each other and continue internecine confrontations will never hammer out the political solution for the Nagas. For that matter Rousseau's 'General Will' which considers anything 'collective' to be inherently 'good and elevating' is missing in the reconciliation process.

For this reason reconciliation meeting call by Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR) often failed. Because of the inconclusiveness vis-ŗ-vis opaque political talk many Naga factions or splinter groups has emerged since 1997. Above that, many demands have popped up- from UNC's "Alternative Arrangement" to ENPO's "Frontier Nagaland". Eventually, the latter's demand has added litmus test to another divide and rule policy for the (Government of India) GoI.

The BJP and ruling UPA is willing to concede some of the ENPO's charter of demands whereas sidelining Naga's problem in other states. With confusions and suspicions within the Naga family, Indo-Naga political talk seems to be heading nowhere. Even demand of the right to self determination has undergone a transformation; from independence to minimal autonomy.

The Government of India is not very keen neither sincere about the political talks. The delaying tactics played by GoI in the peace process is only to suppress and invalidate the Naga political movement. From the very beginning, NSCN doesn't have a strategic policy in asserting identity politics. If terms and conditions can't be follow by both the parties then Ceasefire agreement should have declared null and void.

The 'compromise policy' has been the negotiating terms and that prolongs the Indo-Naga political talks. In face of uncertainty of the political talk it is high time that Nagas look for alternative. The carrot-and-stick policy of using military tactics intermixed with monetary compensation will not win the favour of Nagas. If the political demands can't accommodate within or outside the constitution of India, Nagas has to change its track of diplomacy.

The least known but longest-running national movement was also highlighted during the visit of European Union delegates to 'Nagaland' which in-turn has created a conundrum between India's Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Home Affairs. This clearly mark that the Indian counterparts doesn't have concrete policy for bringing solution for the pending Naga issue.

If independence or maximum autonomy is completely out of the framework of Indo-Naga political talks; being align with China will be better and we can do hard bargain for Macau or Hongkong like status rather than just being merely part of Indian states. China has become more insistent in pressing its territorial claims to Indiaís Arunachal Pradesh and found new ways to question sovereignty over the state of Jammu & Kashmir, one fifth of which it has occupied.

Whenever China raises the issue of Arunachal, Indian officials invites NSCN at New Delhi. One cannot and should not expect the two-third odd members of Indian Parliament from diverse political parties for the final approval to the Indo-Naga political imbroglio.

If the multi-ethnic conflict has to be solved, India and Burma (Myanmar) can learn good lessons from the Northern Ireland peace process where the power sharing agreement was made possible by the 1998 Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement which Britain and Ireland helped broker peace. Violence would never solve any problem and that negotiation is the only way forward. In the past democratic aspirations of Nagas were met with brute force by the Indian and Burmese army.

The GoI isn't willing to solve politically but to contain it systematically. Will the recent Ceasefire Agreement signed at Khampti with the Burmese government follow the same fate? A non-manipulative negotiation and deliberation is believed to be the most appropriated response to the legitimate demands of regions with a distinct culture and identity.

Like the Quebec province in Canada, regional demands of maximum autonomy for the Nagas should be sympathetically treated as long as they were not violent. Cooperation not confrontation and conciliation not conflict should be the bywords of negotiated settlement. It seems these have been lacking for the past years after the signing of the cease-fire agreement. How many generations have to wait for the so-called "Solution" for the Nagas?

The cultural and economic deprivation of indigenous minorities encourages nationalism and reinforces their demand for cultural retention, political representation and autonomy. The aspirations of a people in one country or region directly affect the aspirations and actions of the minority within or across the border. Therefore, demands for greater Nagalim fails to take into account the aspirations of other neighboring states.

Nevertheless, the Nagas will never compromise nor give up the political aspirations to live under one administrative unit. Benedict Andersonís 'imagined community' (referring to the Naga's political movement when it sees to itself as a nation) where populations are so large, or dispersed, make it difficult to bring the all together in one theme and place. The essence of being Naganess exist even they are separated by the state's artificial boundary. So Nagas are the imagined community where some members do not see and know each other but they firmly believe in each otherís existence and bond by solidarity and fraternity.

Conflict occurs when there is a contradiction between the have and have-nots and the dominant and dominated. Nagas in Assam, Arunachal and Manipur lives under the domination of the majority and are being exploited systematically. Since time immemorial Nagas, Assamese and Manipuris have constructed their own unique history, distinct culture and collective memory of identity. There has to be an alternative democratic institutional arrangement to mend the breaking states.

Perhaps, the neighbouring groups should look out for alternative within the democratic framework of India rather than confronting the others. Federalism reduces the level ethnic violence and federal institutions promote successful accommodation.

And even if Nagas joining Indian or Burmese politics it should not be about assimilation; it should render Naganess more visible and pressing. The best parallel to illustrate this situation is the example of Basques and Catalans or Quebecois. Separate identities and regional political autonomy are only made possible through participation in national politics by asserting their rights.

Nagas need to enter the political and cultural arenas not as unified mainland-national forces but with their political differences clearly marked. However, for these activities to proceed, minimal conditions of political democracy and pluralism must prevail. Multicultural democracy like India shouldn't lack a framework to tackle demands for ethnic groups and nationalist movement. In the absence of these conditions, does the answer lie in armed struggle?

The views and observations are of the author's and do not necessary reflect any of the organizations.

* Dr. Lungthuiyang Riamei wrote this article for
The writer is a Research Associate at Centre fo Air Power Studies, New Delhi can be contacted at lungthuiyang(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was posted on June 10, 2012 .

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