Few incidents in the past few days have proved to be “news” for those keenly following the Naga affairs. These have proved to be “news” for not only revealing the nationalist character or rather design/approach of resolving the years-old Indo-Naga political problem but also for revealing the faultlines prevalent within the Nagas, the undercurrents of which pose a challenge to the rhetoric of Naga uniqueness and solidarity and above all to the very idea of Naga itself (chiefly voiced by NSCN-IM). At the same time, the news are unsettling, in the sense that they invoke a sense of déjà vu or a grim reminder of troubled times ahead for the Nagas in their quest for peace and an honourable solution, which seems to be already foreclosed (at least for NSCN-IM and sympathisers).
Rejection of NSCN Core Demands: The Nationalist Design
Of the three news items pertaining to the Naga affairs, the Kolkata based Telegraph screamed the loudest, perhaps by virtue of being a national daily or perhaps on account of its substantial content, which seemed to allay the fears of the non-Nagas in the three neighbouring states of Nagaland, arising out of the proposed creation of a Supra State body as a means of bringing solution to the vexed Naga problem. Its Wednesday edition carried the headlines, “PM Rules Out NSCN Core Demands: Rio Plea for Right Choice” (Kolkota, April 18, 2012). Telegraph reported that the 15-year talks between the Centre and the NSCN (Isak-Muivah) appears to be heading for a deadlock with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh conveying his government’s inability to accept the outfit’s (NSCN-IM) core demands. The Centre has “ruled out” among others “sovereignty”, more “federal power” and “integration of contiguous Naga areas” to hammer out a solution to the more than 60-year-old Indo-Naga political problem. The report further claimed that the Chief Minister of Nagaland, Neiphiu Rio, who met the Prime Minister recently, indicated that the Centre was not in a position to accept the core demands of the NSCN. The news report reproduced Mr. Rio’s quotation of the Prime Minister’s remarks, “Whatever is possible will be possible even after 100 years but whatever is not possible will not be possible even after 100 years”.
Nationalist ethos largely created by the pangs of partition (partition of Bengal as well as Punjab) has been recapitulated by the remarks of the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. Put in otherwise, the young nation-state that India is, cannot afford to fragment her territory anymore. What emerges here is also the reality/logic of modernity deeply ingrained in the blood and flesh of the modern nation-states. While the logic of the nation-states recognises and acknowledges historicity of any movement, it also uses history as a tool to nullify such movements by invoking the logic of irreversibility of history itself. Thus, sovereignty of the Nagas, or, for that matter, any other aspiring nation-state is an impossible proposition to the Indian state. The news report merits attention not only for the element of deadlock in the Indo-Naga peace talks but also for the larger political movements in India based on sovereignty.
Naga Socio-metrics: Inherent Faultlines versus the Idea of Naga
While the nationalist and unitary spirit of the Indian State (sic. denying more “federal power”) has been captured by the remarks of the Prime Minister, it also equally reflects the vigilant character of the Indian State in terms of “recognising” the faultlines inherent within the Naga society, therefore, the rejection of “integration of contiguous Naga areas.” It is an undeniable fact that there are oppositions to the proposed integration from the affected states such as Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur. But the more serious threat to the proposed integration ensues not from external factors but from the internal socio-metrics of the Nagas. The tragedy is ability of the Indian State to pick up such faultlines and endorse in their engagement with the Nagas.
Take for example, on the same day Telegrapgh reported the stand of the Prime Minister, the Dimapur based Morung Express carried the headlines, “GRPN/NSCN Lauds Khaplang’s Peace Truce”. It reported, “GPRN/NSCN will extend all possible help towards the suffering of the Naga brothers living in Myanmar and expressed its hope that Nagas of Myanmar will create no more problems or confusion towards the political destination of Nagaland”. It further added, “The political fate of Nagaland should be left to the people of Nagaland…as appealed by the Naga Hoho and various NGOs in the past”. GPRN/NSCN expressed the view that the political destiny of Nagas of Myanmar should be left to his Excellency the President SS Khaplang, NSCN (K) and political destiny of Nagas of Nagaland be left to the people of Nagaland.
The press release not only laid bare the long standing chasm on factional lines but also an imagery of the Nagas limited by territory or rather a geographical construct. Unconsciously, NSCN-IM has treaded the modernity path, and thus, the instrumental construction of two Naga identities, which in fact is detrimental to the overall Naga movement. In doing so, NSCN-IM has given room for maneuverability to its negotiating partner, the Indian State.
The challenge to the idea of Naga does not end with the political articulation of Naga on territorial or factional lines. It is much deeper if one takes into account recent unfolding of events at the socio-metric level. Few years back, an ultimatum was served by Naga civil society bodies in Dimapur against the Tangkhuls to vacate the town. Tangkhuls were taken as squatters and occupiers. Mind you, the ultimatum was not served not on the behest of any factional Naga insurgent outfit but by the “natives”, who considered the commercial and economic expansion of the Tangkhuls as encroaching upon their land. Similar notices were served by the local population in Kohima, Khuzuma and others to prevent Naga traders from Senapati District of Manipur from doing business in these places. The notices were served as “cheap” (read low priced) vegetables from the Manipuri Nagas were killing the local traders in the local markets and also, the vegetables were “inorganic”, and thus, unhealthy.
Coming to the most recent incident, local dailies painted Manipur black and white with the news of six Jessami (Ukhrul District, Manipur) villagers beaten up by Melurie (Phek District, Nagaland) villagers and taken hostage to Nagaland (“Armed men from across the border abduct six Jessami villagers; Late night release defuse tension”, The Sangai Express, Imphal, April 19, 2012). While Tangkhuls are the inhabitants of Jessami (Ukhrul District), Chakesangs are the majority in Phek District. Tension gripped Manipur-Nagaland border areas after six Jessami villagers were beaten up black and blue by heavily armed Nagas from Melurie Village and taken hostage to Nagaland. Huyen Lanpao, Imphal reported, “The villagers of Melorie have been encroaching upon and using the lands of Jessami village under the protection of Nagaland Arm Police, which has opened a post within the territory of Manipur. This led to regular tensions between the villagers of two villages on either side of Manipur-Nagaland border”. Further, the report added, “The villagers of Jessami have appealed to the State Government to safeguard their lives and properties and help them in protecting the territory of Manipur.” In fact, the hostages were released only after intervention of the State Government. At present, there is demand for installation of IRB post to prevent incursion of Nagas from Nagaland and further escalation of problems at the border area.
Closing the eyes of the crab
The Jessami incident and others mentioned above debunks the idea of Naga people as cohesive and therefore, our understanding is that the idea of political destiny of Nagas leaving to the Naga people as articulated by NSCN-IM remains problematic. In fact, it is a political rhetoric, which has not gone unnoticed from the vigilant eyes of the Indian State. Moreover, the “reconciliation” drive initiated by various Naga bodies has not been able to solve the complex socio-metrics operating at the grassroot level.
The isolated news elaborated in this edition when read together reveals the uniqueness of the Naga reality. As a commentator puts it, the Naga situation is like the age-old Sumi proverb: "difficulty of closing the eyes of the crab". The situation of Naga political movement is such, something that is haywire and something seemingly impossible. This reality has been sidelined by many, for example, NSCN-IM and its frontal organization, the United Naga Council and others, who are involved in the movement. The reality is that taking cognizance of the ground reality the Indian State has rejected the core demands of NSCN-IM. The second reality is the complex socio-metrics working at the ground level. For example, the Nagas of Nagaland want only their citizens to determine their future. And lastly, the people of Manipur particularly the common Nagas are less bothered about the project spearheaded by NSCN-IM. What they are concerned about is the security of their land and lives, which they believe are being threatened by Nagas from across the border, not the non-Nagas of Manipur can only be secured by the Government of Manipur, agency of the Indian State.
This article was published in The Sangai Express on Sunday, April 22, 2012