E-Pao! Opinion - Troubled Waters: The Naga Issue

Troubled Waters: The Naga Issue
* P.M. Soibam

Too many cooks spoil the broth. The saying cannot be better exemplified by any other case than the Naga related problems in the Northeast (NE) India. People who know too little about the realities in the region are seeking to play too big a role in 'solving' the problems. Mr. Bharat Bhushan, while writing for the Telegraph, observed," If the Nagas are denied integration of even the Naga inhabited areas within India, there would be a bloody cycle of civil war…..Since the NSCN has spawned almost all the major insurgencies in the region, it may step up its support to such groups."

To further highlight his ignorance, he went on to ask, "If the people of Tamenglong, Ukhrul and Senapati want to be part of Nagaland, should they be denied that right?" Mr. Kuldip Nayar of the Hindustan Times once blamed the States Reorganization Committee for not having brought the Nagas under one administrative unit.

These comments and arguments may look very intelligent and powerful, coming as they from some prominent people who are respected as resourceful opinion makers nationwide. However, if we have to find a lasting solution to any problem we need much more than just rhetoric. We have to have a wholesome approach to it. We will then see how misplaced these statements are.

#. 1. All troubles in the NE are the synthesis of vested interests.

Everywhere, problems are many a time creations of the self-styled 'servants' or 'saviors of the downtrodden', so they can fish in the troubled waters. The purpose of any movement in the region was to present some sort of a sizeable front to make the voice of the various scattered ethnic groups--that individually could make their presence hardly felt--heard at national and international forums. But the purpose itself got mired in the opportunistic manipulations of the self-styled leaders, who started exploiting people's trust and 'ethnocentric vulnerability'.

By striking people's ethnocentric chords, they created a fear psychosis among their people against the mainland Indians, so they could play the Independence card. This could sustain their cause--rather their interests-- for some years. However they learnt, the hard way, that fewer and fewer people were buying their carrot; people were opening their eyes gradually. Independence was all but a lost cause. They had to find a new cause to keep their interests.

They came up with the Greater Nagaland, another instance of abusing ethnocentric vulnerability of innocent people-but at a much baser level. They are now hoping it should pay them dividends.

The question is; how sincere are these saviors in their concern for the welfare of their people. If they have genuine concern, why should they do anything to involve their people in internecine bloodbaths with others? By running a parallel government and sucking the blood of people in all works of life through 'taxes' and demands, do they think people's lives would become better?

And what about the various crimes of vehicle taxing, vehicle snatching, looting, rape, etc. along the National Highways? The only sensible conclusion is that these saviors are exploiting their unsuspecting people to serve their own interests. How many in the so-called revolutionary organizations are educated and to what degrees? How many have the reasoning capacity to judge things sensibly and take decisions for their own, let alone for their people or the country. The recruits are mostly uneducated brats or the school or college dropouts who have run away from their responsibilities in life.

These are the people who 'brandish' their affiliation to the 'organizations' and force their way through anywhere to commit all sorts of crimes and personal revenge. These organizations will do anything to cover these things up. Things have come to such a pass that some sort of a connection with these organizations give one an upper hand in any kind of social dealings. Of course, there are a few educated but deluded minds at the higher echelons of the set-up. These are the most powerful weapons for the vested interests. Elements from these organizations are infiltrating into government establishments through threat and every possible means. Instead of making efforts to cleanse these areas of corruption and to ensure smooth flow of services to the people, they are also sharing the booty. They have their own quotas inside the Public Distribution Systems and on the allotment of various contracts. It is up to the people to judge these leaders.

#. 2. Are all the so-called Nagas in for the fancied Greater Nagaland?

The answer is a big NO. Since time immemorial, the Kukis, the Nagas, the Meiteis and the Meitei Pangals have seen the ups and downs of history together on the soil of Manipur. It is hence a mockery of history for Mr. Bhushan to claim that the Naga-inhabited areas became part of Manipur only in 1883, after the then Maharaja Gambhir Singh was allowed by the British to annex these areas. Time and again, people from dubious quarters have made high-handed efforts to twist the history of Manipur: didn't we have textbooks that claimed that the sons of Arjuna (of the Mahabharata!) once ruled in Manipur and that the following kings of Manipur were their descendents?

For the genuine version, one should ask the elderly of any community-the Kukis, the Nagas or the Meiteis. They will tell you the truth--that the territorial area of Manipur once extended up to the Brahmaputra valley in the northwest to the Irawadi River in the east. Over the ages, people have come to be interdependent on each other and learnt to be accommodative.

Then, why the impression of large scale YES? The NSCN has always silenced the voice of the learned and sensibly thinking Nagas who happen to hold views against their games and 'Integration', while encouraging and stage managing shows of support to their cause. Anyway, who would like to defy the dictates of the gun-trotting militant cadres of the NSCN, and risk his own life? Moreover, the characteristic traditional collective uncritical loyalty of the innocent tribesmen to their presumed saviors has come a lot in handy for the vested interests. And more imporatanly the experts make opinions based on impressions.

#.3.Exclusivism as a solution is fundamentally nonsensical.

No ethnic community in today's world can survive in isolation. Often the self-styled leaders of the Nagas and the Bodos have harped on Meitei and Assamese chauvinism as if chauvinism is very unique to these communities only. However, the fact is that it is a human tendency to have some sort of a towering attitude towards another belonging to the minority, which may be linguistic, religious or even regionalistic. This can only be tackled with sensible compromises on the parts of both the majority and the minority.

[Further discussion can be had in the author's another article, ''Troubles in the NE: A Sufferer's Musings" in the opinion section of the site, ] The point is that exclusivism can never be a solution. If there is a misunderstanding between two persons, they should sit together and talk things out, rather than slamming the door to each other. As it is, exclusivism is an ignoble concept expounded by the 'saviors', who have defeated the very genuine cause of the pioneers of their movements, who in fact believed in the strength of unity.

The Imphal valley of Manipur belongs to all Manipuris-be they the Kukis, the Nagas, the Meitei Pangals or the Meiteis. In the same vein, the Hills belong to all Manipuris, althought the non-tribal status of the Meiteis has made the area inaccessibleto them as far as settling there and owning properties are concerned.

#. 4.Greater Nagaland, then what?

We all know that the Nagas are a hotchpotch of many small tribes and a few larger tribes with a synthetic identity called 'the Nagas'. These tribes have no more cultural similarity with each other than with any other tribes in the region. The recent attempts by the NSCN to enlist some traditionally Kuki tribes in the Chandel district of the Naga fold is a glaring evidence to this fact. There are still some controversies as to whether some Naga tribes (most significantly Muivah's own Tangkhul tribe!) belong to the Naga group or not.

They use Manipuri, Assamese or English to communicate with each other. [Therefore, it is clear that Kuldip Nayar's blame on the States' Reorganization Committee was laughable, because the basis for reorganization of states was 'a common language'.] This being the fact, where is the guarantee whatsoever that the Greater Nagaland--or even the present Nagaland for that matter-- would not be fragmented up into pieces when the smaller tribes would start complaining of bullying by the 'chauvinistic' bigger tribes. The bigger the crowd, the more difficult it is to keep them cohesive. It should hold true especially with Greater Nagland, because there is nothing much in common that is going to keep the myriad tribes toegther.

#. 5.Greater Nagaland is the problem, not the solution.

People should remember what happened in Manipur when the Cease-fire was extended to Manipur. That was only a hint of what could happen on a larger scale when people in responsible positions take reckless decisions based on half-hearted analysis and one-sided logic.

The series of bloody clashes between the Kukis and the Nagas in 90's started initially over some areas in Chandel and other districts of Manipur, which were claimed by both the NSCN and the Kuki militants as part of their respective homelands. For an unbiased mind, these facts must speak ample volumes about the untenability of the Greater Nagaland as the solution. And about the reality that the Greater Nagaland movement and similar movements in the region are the root cause of the problems.

Not only the Nagas and the Kukis, even some sections of the Meiteis have now started demanding a Greater Kangleipak, that would include, over and above the present state of Manipur, the areas in neighboring Assam, Bangladesh and Tripura inhabited by the Meiteis and the Meitei Pangals (Muslims), and the Kabo Valley in Myanmar. Would people like Mr. Bharat Bhushan support carving out chunks of these neighboring states/countries to be integrated with Manipur? Or, why is it that Mr. Bhushan has never been known to be a vociferous supporter of "Freedom Struggle of the Kashmiris"? He should at least join the demand for a referendum in Kashmir! The question is; ought we to give in to the designs of the Mafia?

#. 6.Manipur is not an UP, MP or Bihar.

The factors that necessitated the formation of Uttaranchal, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand can be breifly reviewed. The first and foremost was the big size of the parent states that made administration inconvenient and non-uniform. The second was the less representation of the regions in the administrative bodies of the respective states that, coupled with the present day manipulative politics, denied them their share of developmental activities proportionate to their contribution to the undivided economy in terms of abundant mineral resources.

There is no such plausible reason in case of Manipur. Rather, Manipur is a small state with a Meitei majority and a minority of different tribes. On the other hand, bringing other Naga areas into Nagaland will make it cumbersomely big and difficult to administer, with the many tribes wrangling with each other over every small matter.

Secondly, the Nagas are given adequate--if not excess--representation in Manipur. There has been even a Naga Chief Minister. Still, if some people feel that the Nagas are biased against, there can never be a possible explanation, other than the venomous hate campaign by their so-called leaders and the traditional chasms between mainland India and the NE, between the urban and the rural areas, and between the Valley and the Hills. There should be sensible solutions to redress this matter, anyway. If states were to be created on this basis, India would one day have a thousand states!

Appeal to the experts:

It is a fact that people from outside the NE are least interested in the happenings in the region ( Let-them-kill-each-other-and-perish attitude!) It is therefore quite understandable that they don't have much idea about the problems boiling the region. But, it is not totally understandable how they can make wild expert comments on these problems, especially when they happen to be overtly partisan. They smack of undue influence or inappropriate incentives from some parties in the conflicts, or some totally different interests.

More often than not, these experts use their stature as prominent opinion makers to advantage as against the region's--particularly Manipur's--rarity of nationally audible leaders or influential heavyweights who are willing to take up its cudgels. So it is not ver difficult to see why Mr. Bhushan singled out Manipur in his article although the NSCN is claiming areas in Assam and other states, too.

Mass media have not helped the matter much. Major national newspapers are also the monopoly of incestuous coteries who reserve their columns only for the 'experts' who make judgements in the comfort of their air-conditioned chambers. This effectively blocks the real picture of things from being made known to the wider nation through grassroots level contributors who have an in-depth first hand experience and knowledge of the ground realities.

There should be no doubt that a trouble ridden NE is not in anybody's interest-whether he is a mainland Indian or a Northeasterner. People should not fish in the troubled waters.

Appeal to my fellow Northeasterners:

At an age when we should concentrate on projecting ourselves as one and making our leverage strong enough to have a say in decision making regarding planning and distribution of developmental activities, and strive for common progress, it is utter senselessness to divert our attention toward counter productive exclusivism and internecine conflicts. We should not forget that we are a democracy where a group's share of the pie is proportional to its numerical strength. We share a common racial origin, the same predicament and the same future. We should be aware of the vested interests within and without so we don't play into their hands. Lest it should be too late!

*The author of this piece is a student of Medicine who has deliberated many a thoughts on the recent happenings in the North Eastern Region of India.
He can be contacted at

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